Reality Check!

“University system needs radical change” – David Willetts MP (BBC News)

As Jeremy Vine examined today; university is not the ‘be all and end all’. It is also not a ‘panacea for all’ as often described. There are less expensive (and more practicle) alternatives (both to the individual and the state) as proclaimed by a popular alternative internet guide;

We’re often led to believe that university is the only route to success. Not going to university doesn’t mean your life is over, nor does it mean you can’t be successful. We’re here to inspire, advise, give you opportunities and help you to succeed in your chosen path. Welcome to the University of Life!

The government has suggested; “Quality degrees should be more widely available” however the university system is in need of “radical change” to give a better deal for taxpayers and students. With today’s calibre of graduates and some of the subjects they have actually studied I have to agree.

I don’t wish to take a ‘broad brush’ approach to the condemnation of students however, there appears to be a far larger proportion of students who see university simply as, a stop-gap solution prior to facing up to taking their place in the real world. When you add to this the modern phenomenon of the ‘gap year’ travels, often considered by many as ‘an absolute ‘right of passage’, you start to see a period between leaving school and commencing ‘gainful employment’ of well in excess of four years. A period of time that actually needs to be paid for by someone…

The students often don’t care who pays (or how), less affluent parents expect the government (i.e. you & me) to pay and ultimately, everyone and anyone is picking up the tab for an expenditure they haven’t incurred. Can this really be justified? There are those who would suggest the cost of education is worthwhile investment for our nation’s future. A noble sentiment however, it is only sustainable to a point. As a society we need to see some tangible benefit from it.

Consider the ‘gap year’ scenario… A gap year is supposed to be; a great way for you to travel, take time out, see the world and learn new skills however, the priorities have become jumbled up. Many now see the ‘gap year’ simply as an extended holiday. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all take a year out of work paid for by someone else! The same goes for the minimum three years at university.

Reading so far, you could be forgiven for thinking I am in some way ‘anti uni’ or, I am trying to make some sort of ‘social class’ comment. It would also be wrong to assume that I know nothing about university life or further education… I was born and raised in Oxford, one of the greatest university towns in the world. I fully believe in education and value the development of skills and experience based upon knowledge. I have many friends who are graduates and, I have undertaking further education study myself with the Open University (and other FE providers) but the difference is; it was done in my own time and at my own expense.

An element of our society has always been vociferous about their belief in that; “degrees are elitist and only available to the rich/posh”. Today nothing could be further from the truth… During recent years there has been far too much reliance placed on the attainment of a university degree, to the extent many have them and they turn out to be totally superfluous. In many ways, they have become marginally better than worthless and often no more value than the parchment they are printed on!

Today you only have to examine the job vacancies… There is a plethora of employers and employment agencies asking for ‘graduate applicants only’ to fill positions that have absolutely no academic requirement whatsoever? Many equate these qualifications to providing ‘evidence’ of an individuals ‘intelligence, commitment and drive’ however, far too often this supposition couldn’t be further from the truth. If the opposite were actually the case, why then do so many graduates end up as unemployed or working in some mind numbing menial role? It is often because of a lack of experience and knowledge that is not academic and only obtainable after a period of degree level study at ‘the University of Life’.

In many ways we are all responsible for this ludicrous situation in our society. We have continually pushed the value of bits of paper as ‘evidence’ of someone’s worth, instead of using communication skills, face to face interaction and personal evaluation. We have reared generations of kids who (wrongly) believe they actually need a degree to succeed. In many ways, we have consistently given our offspring false and inflated expectations of the future and of reality.

By all means tell your ‘little prince/princess’ that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up however, please, please, please don’t forget to also provide the reality checks…

Not every little boy (or girl) can become a CEO on £350,000.00pa with supercar, a city apartment, a house in the Cotswolds, a little place in the sun and retired by the age of fifty. Similarly, not every little girl (or boy) can be a premier footballer’s partner, actor, model or pop diva… Always assuming there is no Simon Cowell input that is!

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