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Mark Andrews on Saturday: Argos books, exam fiasco, and some very enterprising universities

Opinions | Published:

I know we live in strange times, and companies need to slash costs, but doesn't Argos's getting rid of its famous catalogue seem the greatest act of business hari-kari since Gerald Ratner told the world his products were 'total crap'?

For the past 47 years, Argos had one advantage over its competition, a ready advertising presence in every home, making it the first port of call when pricing up new items. If it loses its high street shops too – and many remain closed – it becomes just another internet retailer struggling to compete against Amazon and Ebay.

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Last week I wrote about the unfairness of dishing out A-level results based on some arcane formula dreamt up by the exam boards, but I never envisaged the fiasco that has emerged.

Following the backlash in Scotland, where pupils' results were downgraded if they went to a sink school, the Government had a last-minute panic and told youngsters they can either accept the grades awarded, see if their mock-exam results are better, or take a punt by sitting their exams in the autumn.

It's like a naff game show. Take Your Pick perhaps, only without the Yes-No Interlude.

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Wouldn't a more sensible solution have been to delay the universities' academic year by a couple of months, giving everyone time to sort this out? They can always make up the time next summer, with a two-month rather than four-month recess.

And with the benefit of hindsight, wasn't it a bit hasty to call off the exams? Surely contingency plans could have been made, without ruling out the possibility of sitting the tests. Yes, I know not all the syllabus had been taught, but it should not have been beyond the wit of man to have taken that into account. It would have been fairer than the hotch-potch we have now.

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If it's safe for pubs and fast-food joints to be packed to the rafters for people tucking into their half-price Rishi's dishes, it is surely safe for youngsters to sit in silence at desks 10ft apart.

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Mind you, even if kids don't get the results they hoped for, I have a feeling it won't be too hard to get onto some of the university courses this year.

One of the daftest ones I have heard about this year is the BA in Entrepreneurship, which a number of universities are offering.

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Oh, to be a fly-on-the wall in those lectures. Professor Derek Trotter offering tips on what to do if you get lumbered with a job-lot of ex-British Rail luminous paint, and Dr Arthur Daley telling you what to say when the Old Bill gives you a tug.

But seriously, are these courses actually taught by successful, self-made millionaires, or just theoreticians who have read a few books? Something tells me Lord Sugar and Sir Richard Branson won't be in the classroom.

On the other hand, I suspect the main qualification you need to get on these courses is a spare £9,250 a year. That's entrepreneurship for you.

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