We just don't have the waves

24th September 2004 at 01:00
Top marks to Peter Morris, of the Professional Association of Teachers in Wales, who suggested this summer that a surfing and beach management degree offered by Swansea Institute of Higher Education is nothing more than a Mickey Mouse course.

I must declare an interest. I started surfing at the age of 18, spent three years (instead of going to university) working and travelling in a variety of exotic locations and following the waves. And back in the UK, I would regularly rise at 5am to get an hour in the water before work. I feel better qualified than most to throw around some cold water!

Swansea Institute argues that surfing has huge growth potential and that graduates of their course will be well qualified to take up careers in industries based around the sport.

I know of only a handful of surf-based industries - manufacturing surfboards, selling them, and teaching people how to use them. Shaping boards is a specialist craft and can only be learned on the job. Working in a surf shop is something that should be taught as part of a business studies course dealing with all kinds of retail businesses, and surf instructors can get the teaching qualification over a few weekends.

On the web page promoting the degree, the Institute produces the figure for the UK share of the global surf industry and implies that, because it is small, there is room for huge growth. Nonsense. It is small because the waves and weather are better in Australia, the USA, South Africa, South-east Asia and the west coast of Europe. No amount of surf graduates will change that geographical reality.

More people in the UK are taking up the sport and so there is some growth potential. Enough, perhaps, to sustain a few more surf shops and fill a few guesthouses out of season. It is certainly not enough to find graduate jobs for more than a tiny handful of those who complete the degree.

Doubtless the course will attract applicants. But to anyone thinking of applying, here is an alternative. Work hard in the UK for a few months and you could spend a year travelling and surfing in Asia where the pound goes a long way.

You will surf more, learn more, and spend much less than you would in Swansea. Along the way you will acquire a degree in common sense that will stand you in far better stead to get a job when you settle down.

David Davies is the Conservative education spokesman in the Welsh Assembly

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