University is an Investment in Life, Not a Holiday

Today is the day that many students are now collecting their A Level results and going places. A girl on the news today told of how she intends to go and study maths. She said that the reason she was going for that course was because she ‘doesn’t know, but just happens to like maths’. Sounds like another directionless millennial to me. Following on from my last post I think the importance of a university education needs to be scrutinised. This time I am looking at the financial aspect and the right of passage associated with it.

University is actually a right of opportunity, not a passage. Many of the students today think that university is just a three year 18-30 holiday that they are ‘entitled’ to go on as a right-of-passage and that the state should pay for it. That is a false expectation. Some of the students who I have been at university with at UEA and Essex didn’t have much thought for what they expected out of the degree they were doing. They just wanted the society and the lifestyle that comes with the placement.

Research has shown that one in five parents think that university is not a viable option for school leavers anymore. Some of them think so because of the amount of work opportunities they can find without a degree and some school leavers think they just to get ahead in the world of work. I had a friend who put off going to university until his early twenties after spending a year or two on an apprenticeship at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Some school leavers think that the costs and the burden of debt isn’t worth it. The tuition fees and the debts are something that the students of today want to see gone. But what they don’t seem to be aware of is why we had them in the first place. If they did go then the number of university places would have to be cut. In some respects I think that would be appropriate because it would lay off the liberal minded snowflake students and show them what they real world is all about.

In late eighties the state paid for the brightest 10% to go to university to study for useful degrees (science, engineering, Etc.) that had a very useful economic and creative value. The other degrees which people enrolled on had to apply to a grant or a scholarship and these had fewer students than they had now. These were for things like sociology, media studies, fine art or history.

By the 1990s about 25% of school leavers went to university. Those who went felt that they had a privilege as they were being paid for by the state. Especially as universities were recognised as a social weapon to elevate people from their class status. But what they hadn’t recognised was that there had been other ways of social mobility. Consider the economic liberalism of the 1980s where the establishment operation of finance and business was now open to all classes. This devalued the necessity for a higher education and showed that you could make a fortune without a degree.

So why were the fees brought in? Well the New Labour party had a goal to see to it that 50% of school leavers would go to university during their time in office. However it would involve thinking differently about how universities can get funding. If the government were to fund 50% of school leavers to go university it would be too expensive. Knowing that this unsustainable New Labour decided to give the universities the freedom to charge students, getting money out the loans and fees paid to make more money for research and courses and generate revenue.

Now the next problem was getting the children to come to university. To do this the schools and the government starting by making stories about what they could expect out of university. Instead of promoting it’s academic and economic value, they sold them on the value of the social activities, the community on campus and the prospect of a highly paid job. There were also told them what to think of jobs that were likely to go into without a degree making scare stories about being trapped in low skilled jobs and they’d be impoverished on the basis of their career choices. This was what led to the job snobbery that led to youngsters shunning jobs that the immigrants would take.

As for the courses that they made them choose, they gave them more options in less mentally challenging and recreational things. Back then Sociology was regarded (wrongly of course) as a Mickey-Mouse degree. But nowadays it is positively recognised for all the wrong reasons and there are no realistic jobs that the graduates of sociology would use it for. The same goes for other degrees like media studies, fine art, theatre, history, etc.

But hold that thought for media studies and business degrees. These have got plenty of jobs in their field but they have the need for a degree and a university pathway would be pointless. Some successful people business don’t have a higher education and some people in the performing arts and the media excel through on the job training. Those who do have degrees in something like theatre are likely to be working at the box office or a cinema attendant.

In the last post I mention a report from Prospects. The link to it reveals the extent of what graduates have been doing in the six months after leaving university. It isn’t a good picture. The majority of graduates, about 60% of them are in jobs that are irrelevant to their degrees. Now that is very ironic. They were told to avoid certain career choices, but they had to take them anyway. They shouldn’t have to constantly school themselves to appease the teachers, the schools should be accountable to enterprise and industry. Back in the day they used to collaborate with the bosses, now they compete with them in ways that only backfire miserably and lead to intellectual abuse.

I would like to see the universities be stripped of their current funding method from their students. Instead of getting money out of the student loans company, get them to make money from the support of private enterprise. The way I see it they should cut back on the number of students they take in and then we reduce or abolish the fees. Stop promoting university as a holiday camp for people who want to avoid work and promote it as a place for private industry to make money out of the research projects that they do on campus.

The purpose of a school is to educate bright young minds to advance to the field of work that they aspire to go to. The education system needs to do away with it’s school spirit and focus on the aspirations of the students themselves. For the students of today we need to prepare them for tomorrow and that means teaching how to think, not what to think. We need creatives, innovators, critical thinkers and intellectuals.

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