University of Cambridge

David Mitchell gets serious about University Fees

David Mitchell tells it how it is in this episode, what it was like in university for him and why he doesn’t think the university system is fair right now.

Back Story by David Mitchell | Paperback 2013
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Audiobook (read by David Mitchell):

Who is David Mitchell?

David Mitchell is a British actor, comedian and writer. He is one half of the comedic duo Mitchell and Webb, alongside Robert Webb, whom he met at Cambridge University. There they were both part of the Cambridge Footlights, of which Mitchell became President. Together the duo starred in the Channel 4 sitcom Peep Show in which Mitchell plays Mark Corrigan. The show received a BAFTA and won three British Comedy Awards, while Mitchell won the award for Best Comedy Performance in 2009. The duo have written and starred in several sketch shows including The Mitchell and Webb Situation, That Mitchell and Webb Sound and most recently That Mitchell and Webb Look. Mitchell and Webb also star in the UK version of Apple’s Get a Mac advertisement campaign. Their first film, Magicians, in which Mitchell plays traditional magician Harry, was released on 18 May 2007.

On his own, Mitchell has played Dr James Vine in the BBC1 sitcom Jam & Jerusalem and Tim in the one-off ShakespeaRe-Told adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew. He also is a frequent participant on British panel shows, including QI, Mock the Week and Have I Got News for You, as well as Best of the Worst and Would I Lie to You? on each of which he is a team captain, and The Unbelievable Truth which he hosts. Regarding his personal life, Mitchell considers himself a “worrier” and lives in a flat in Kilburn.

Some reviews of Back story

David Mitchell is just so intelligent and funny, and he is a terrific writer. He has a very distinct voice that comes through in his writing–his writing sounds like him talking, and he is incredibly well-spoken. His digressions are thorough but never too long, and every once in a while he unexpectedly makes a spot-on connection to something he mentioned earlier in the book. While I thought the premise of the book–a walk through London–was a bit contrived, it didn’t matter at all. This book was fantastic, and more importantly, meaty. So many books by comedians–I’m thinking specifically of Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, and Chelsea Handler–are just enjoyable fluff that you get through in two hours. Mitchell’s book has a lot more to it and lasted me over a week of great reading (although I was still very sad when it ended). I adore his television work, so I loved reading about how his career unfolded, especially the other people he worked with, and of course, his friendship and work partnership with Robert Webb. If only Robert Webb would write a memoir too, I would be a very happy girl. I hope it’s not long before David Mitchell comes out with another book.


I’m only a little way through this so far but I am LOVING it. It helps that I really like David Mitchell, he makes me laugh a lot, and this book is making me like him more. It’s pretty much a book about nothing – sort of going for a walk and getting diverted with rambling anecdotes about childhood and random opinions. I quite like descriptions of walks (I enjoy Clare Balding Goes For A Walk on radio 4, for example), and his diversions are pretty much his panel show persona, so for me it works.

Also I’ve put War and Peace on hold – I’m about 1/12 of the way through it and really struggling – so I’m going to enjoy pretty much anything in comparison, and this feels like a huge treat. Will go back to War and Peace after this. (Probably. Maybe.)

If you like David Mitchell, you will like this, and if you don’t like David Mitchell you won’t read it anyway.

David Mitchell is one half of Peep show, Mitchell and webb and has appeared on David Mitchell soapbox, Mock the week and many other comedy panel shows like Would I lie to you. In his book Back story, the memoir David Mitchell opens up about his childhood and his journey to success.

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  • Ehhh…On the one hand, I have no major issue with repaying fees through HECS. There's no interest, you don't pay unless you can, and everyone I've talked to doesn't notice the payments.
    On the other hand, the way they want it – loans, with interest, paid whether you have a job or not – is just asking for a disaster. Look at the States, and how much debt their universities create – and how few can pay now. And it puts people off of going to uni, which hurts universities in the end.

  • Oh, you folks just wait until your banking industry gets a good hod full of student loans. You'll quickly be in the same boat as the US where student debt is a big money maker for the wealthy in banking and there are multiple layers of middlemen just waiting to get a piece of the action.

  • Extremely high tuition and fees, no universal government subsidies, a wide variety of scholarships outside of loans, but its rare to get enough to pay for even a majority of the cost. There are government subsidized loans with low interest rates, but you can only take out a small amount per year in those. Then there are private bank loans which have different policies on interest than subsidized loans and charge a bit more interest. Student debt can't be erased through bankruptcy.

  • the cold hard truth for any government is that they have to look at the business case for educating people by sending them to university – it's essentially an investment in the eventual skills and competency those people will have after their education. If you don't invest enough everybody will be stupid and we won't be able to compete in the world, if you over invest then you are indulging people you can't really afford to indulge., because that takes money away from other things we might need.

  • the cold hard truth for any government is that they have to look at the business case for educating people by sending them to university – it's essentially an investment in the eventual skills and competency those people will have after their education. If you don't invest enough everybody will be stupid and we won't be able to compete in the world; if you over invest then you are indulging people you can't really afford to indulge, because that takes money away from other things we might need.

  • Universities are full of para-marxist leftist twats who do little but subvert our youth. They should receive no funding whatsoever.

    Sciences excepted of course, but 'scholars' in the philosophy of science are trying there too…

  • I normally agree with DM, but not in this case. If you want to "find yourself" or hangout with friends, then pay for that yourself. Don't expect us to pay for an education which M admits he was not interested in. 

  • I wouldn't expect my fees to be paid for me at all, but I certainly wouldn't expect them to be as high as they are. As I've worked out so far I will be in £41,240 of debt. But my fees seem to rise still every year. Last year they were £7,900, this year they are £8,220 and I wouldn't be surprised if next year they rise again, followed by a PGCE which I apparently need to fund myself but I have no idea how I will afford to because I will be completely broke which will mean taking out another loan, meaning being in more debt. Soo…I'm fucked…

  • I study English Literature, and I've lost count of the number of times I've been jokily told that I 'don't do a real degree'. It's pretty real to me, in that it's made me a better, happier person and shed light on how we relate to art, society and each other individually. Apparently studying economics is 'realer' because it will make you financially successful. I'm sorry, but that's just not very interesting to me.

  • I see what he is saying about the pressure of having to pay off tuition, I had to do this. But the problem is you get those students who just come to university to party and end up taking 10 years to get a 4 year degree and abuse the privileges of free education. It's those students who ruin it for the serious bunch. When you enforce tuition fees, it forces students to think seriously about their futures and what they want to do, and makes them recognize that University is not an extension of high school partying & irresponsibility from their younger years. There is room in your first two years to figure out what you want, as you do have space for electives. The way I see it, is if students are not ready and really do not know what they want, then they shouldn't plunge into a college career that goes no where. My advice would be to research and talk to people in different fields of study, get exposure to those areas that interest them. There are ways around it, as bad as the fees are. Also, choose an affordable, but good university. I know so many students who are in higher debt than they need to be because they choose high end colleges and then dig themselves a hole after graduation. Is it really necessary to be 70-80k in debt, when you can still get a high quality education for cheaper somewhere else?

  • In this area?  Go to Uni, get pissed every night, keep the neighbours awake, get a useless "ology", then a low paid job that u would have got anyway, and we, the taxpayers never see a penny of the loan!

  • Obviously university should be free, as David Mitchell explains, you pay back your fees through taxes for the rest of your life, people with degrees are a benifit to society, doctors and scientists are needed yet the government thinks its acceptable to charge people these fees to get a degree to be able to do those essential jobs, do they somehow think only rich people should do these jobs, education should be about intelligence not how much money you have. Though yes I do agree that there are some degrees out there not worth doing that i think people perhaps should pay for if they really wish to do them, but degrees in essential studies such as Science, IT and medical studies should most definitely be free.

  • For all of you englishmen who think university fees are too expensive, why not come to the netherlands? fees are about 1/5th of what you pay, more than half the country speaks understandable english outside of universities, and you can take the ferry/train/one hour flight back to your family in holidays. If you study here for 4+ years the government will even help you out with fees.

  • In Slovenia the university is free AND you get major discounts for public transport and any restaurant. That way you save time for studying instead of wasting it on walking and cooking. The country is your momma, but if you're not good to momma, momma is not good to you. The taxes are high. If you fail too many times despite all this help, you lose these privilages and even have to pay for school.
    The number of times you can fail is getting pretty small now. Recession.

  • I come from Denmark but live in England at the moment and I was astonished to discover that University (or education in general) wasn't free. Imho, the idea that you have to pay to learn and to further yourself so you become qualified and, essentially, valuable to your country is completely mental.

  • When David Mitchell was at university there were far fewer people at university – and I think that's the main problem! Now there are too many universities and too many students and this is not only necessitating tuition fees because the government cannot afford to sustain all these students, but it is also devaluing the degree we're paying so much for. Now it's so competitive, it's just not enough to have a degree for a good career: you need a 2.1, usually from a top institution, and a lot of work experience and skills. Soon they'll be asking for firsts only, and then Masters. It's academic inflation! We're paying more and more for less and less.

    I totally agree with the video because I didn't put enough time at university into following my creative passions, instead studying a boring business degree to try and get a well-paid (but probably boring) job later on. All so I get my value for money. This shouldn't be how it is, and it's all because there's too many people with D,D,E at A Level getting pissed for 3 years at Cirencester Metropolitan. 

    Reduce the number of universities, increase vocational and entrepreneurial opportunities for school leavers and keep university for those who should actually go there: those who want to learn and be inspired like David was.

  • Yeah in like the old days (Like Middle Ages) You studied 6 years before you where even given the title of student. Sad that today University is seen more like a means to an comfortable living instead of a very good way to improve yourself.

  • I kind of agree with him, but at the same time I went to uni as a mature student and was a bit annoyed by how many people didn't take it seriously and how many of those guys dropped out or screwed up their grades just because they were "living the uni life", which at age 30 you realise is being a boring as fuck pothead or a completely irritating twat. David Mitchell had the bonus of A. Being at Oxford, and B. Picking a career that was still related to his extracurricular studies. I don't think his experiences really relate to people dropping out and costing the taxpayer a fucking fortune funding a year or so of slack-arsed pseudo-hedonism they'll never get back. He's right, it would be wonderful if we could afford to send every young person to chase their dreams and find themselves for 3 years, but we can't – so I don't consider spending 3 years working hard at learning useful skills relevant to an intended career is exactly the worst possible compromise. And now I did that and got a full-time job in my field of study I can use my own money to be a boring, boorish pseudo-hedonistic twat on my own time, which is frankly great because now I can afford the premium spirits instead of cradling a bottle of white lightning, and I just feel like a better quality of twat.

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