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Why Prince William is right to go back to school

By Victoria Arbiter, royal commentator, special for CNN
January 8, 2014 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
Britain's Prince William speaks to CNN in an interview earlier this year.
Britain's Prince William speaks to CNN in an interview earlier this year.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Prince William began an agricultural management course at Cambridge University
  • He will gain knowledge of how to manage the Duchy of Cornwall Estate
  • Victoria Arbiter: The news was met with staunch criticism amid a smattering of praise
  • William is keen to educate himself and continue his father's mission, she writes

Editor's note: Victoria Arbiter is CNN's royal commentator. Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely hers.

(CNN) -- Prince William went back to school this week. To Cambridge University, to be precise, where he will undertake a tailor-made, 10-week course in agricultural management.

When he completes the course, new father William won't have earned a degree; he won't walk out with a doctorate or a masters; in fact he won't receive any formal qualifications at all, but he will have gained a beginner's knowledge of how to manage the Duchy of Cornwall Estate -- a vast £760 million (about $1.25 billion) entity established in 1337 to provide a private income for use by the reigning monarch's eldest son, which William will inherit when Prince Charles becomes King.

READ: New chore: Prince William will learn more about farming

Victoria Arbiter
Victoria Arbiter

As with most matters relating to the monarchy his enrollment has had a polarizing effect: the news was met with staunch criticism amid a smattering of praise, with some university students declaring he'd been given a "free pass" because of his royal status. Others went so far as to describe his admittance as an "insult" to those already studying at Cambridge.

Not surprisingly, people have been quick to jump on the critical band wagon without taking a moment to actually understand exactly what it is he's doing at the university. But since when has receiving further education of any description been something negative?

The type of course William is undertaking is open to pretty much anyone who has the money to pay for it -- land owners, company executives, the posh set. Is it an elitist course? Perhaps. But who could argue that William does not hold an elite position?

Entry for this particular program is not reliant on past grades or previous academic records. Professor Ross Anderson of Cambridge University's Computer Laboratory told the Cambridge News: "Whether they have any A-levels at all is no more relevant than the price of tea in China."

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William's course was organized by the Cambridge Program for Sustainability Leadership (CPSL), whose patron is the Prince of Wales, himself a former Cambridge graduate. Charles has been clear regarding his concerns for the welfare of Britain's countryside, and it would appear William is keen to educate himself and continue his father's mission. Surely it is better that he learn how to do it properly of his own initiative than screw it up down the line because his A-level results didn't live up to the Cambridge ideal.

It's no secret that William would like to delay leading a full royal life for as long as possible. That may be hard to comprehend for those slogging away to make ends meet on the minimum wage, but perhaps understandable given that there is no retirement age in a job that calls for a lifetime of service to crown and country.

Rather than attending lectures and seminars and writing essays on economics and land economy, I expect William would rather bolt to Mustique with the Middleton family in the coming weeks for what has become something of a traditional winter break -- as would many of the hoi polloi, no doubt.

But having completed service in all three branches of the British military, performed his first investiture on behalf of the Queen, and represented the Queen for the first time at a State visit, William is now preparing more extensively for the role he will one day fulfill. His royal engagements have been stepped up, and he and the Duchess of Cambridge will undertake a tour to Australia and New Zealand in April. Furthering his education is the natural next step.

Personally I would rather see William fork over private funds in preparation for his future role than squander said funds on Treasure Chest cocktails at Mahiki, the royals' perennial favorite nightclub.

Wherever there are fortunes and family firms, there are heirs to fortunes and family firms. The children of both Richard Branson and Donald Trump have joined their respective family businesses and done exceptionally well. Why? Because they learned their trade beforehand.

Others have enjoyed all the benefits of wealth and a globally-recognized family name only to stumble out of nightclubs and make sex tapes.

Surely it can only be a good thing that William has gone back to school. His course is being paid for privately, not through the public purse. He's putting in the work, and ultimately the British countryside stands to benefit from what he learns.

I imagine Oxford would have been mighty chuffed to have a second heir to the throne walking its hallowed halls. The city of Cambridge is certain to enjoy a rise in tourism due to its famous pupil. Interest in the university itself will increase, and perhaps inquiries about higher education in general will spike.

To me, it seems perfectly fitting that the Duke of Cambridge actually attend Cambridge. He could have hightailed it to Cambridge, Massachusetts, of course -- but then people really would be up in arms.

READ: Prince William interview: Future king talks fatherhood, baby George

READ: Royal welcome for Middletons this Christmas?

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Victoria Arbiter.

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