What a waste?

The Examination Schools (exam halls) at Oxford.
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Recently I posted about the criminal waste of food and, I have previously commented about our education system and how often academia = bureaucracy in the public sector. This made me think of another major waste in our society…  

It is often said (usually by older people) that; “youth is wasted on the young” (a quote variously attributed to either Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw). I am starting to believe (in a similar context) that; a University education is also wasted on the young. There will be those who question why I (and probably many others) think this way, let me try to explain.  

I suppose one of the first aspects of this reasoning that I have to question is; have I arrived at this conclusion out of some personal jealousy, developed as I have got older or, is it simply based upon my observations of our society? To be fair I think it is probably a combination of both. 

I was born in Oxford of parents who often lauded the value of attending University. I am also the product of a British public school education, all be it not one of the most academically qualified ones. And looking back to my youth, I can almost (but not fully) accept the continuous mantra at the time, “school days are the best days of your life”.  Having a reassessment of the circumstances where I left school with a limited GCE count and, did not progress to university to take a degree, perhaps I do feel a little like I ‘missed out’ in some way.

That said, I honestly don’t believe a university education would have benefited me as much then as it subsequently has. Study at the Open University as an adult was probably far more beneficial to me personally. By the time I became an OU undergraduate I had developed a more questioning mind and I had obtained experiences of life on which to base observations and argument during debate. Two important areas I could never hoped to be proficient in at the tender age of 19.

Back in 2007 Michele Hanson asked in The Guardian; “Education is wasted on the young – so why don’t we spend more on courses for older people?” In the article she examined why there appears to be an increase in older people studying for academic qualifications, despite removal of government funding… Even when successive governments and academics have espoused the actual worth to society of ‘life long learning‘.

It is interesting that today, a university education is probably far more accessible than it ever was 30-40 years ago. The annual increase in applications for university places continues year on year at a phenomenal pace, a factor which probably results from society’s almost total reliance on academic qualifications as an indicator of employability. If this is actually correct, why do we then have more and more graduates each year struggling to find work?

I can agree that a university education is undoubtedly of benefit to the individual (and society) however, at what point in your life you undertake that process is another matter. Perhaps the time is right to enforce the ‘gap year(s)’ process  by only accepting undergraduates after they have gained some life skills?

So to my mind, university is actually wasted on the young. I’m sure there will be those with a far more scholastic and academic bent than I who would beg to differ! The fact there is actually choice has to be a good thing but each to their own I suppose?

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