Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Regrets - I have a few?

In between all of the whinging about graduate life, I think it's important to balance it with one very simple fact: I don't actually regret going to university. Not one second of it, not even that time I threw up in my bin.

(Maybe that time.)

I would even still encourage people who want to go to think about it seriously, albeit weighing up the terrifying financial aspects.

I do believe in the importance of learning for the sake of learning. I think that university imparts important life experience on those who choose to go. I also think that some university courses are designed to make you a better fit for the job market (or at least a specific job market). I think that the real problem is believing that simply attending university can give you all three through some sort of osmosis. Osmosis doesn't work past the cellular level. It's not university that taught me that, it's GCSE biology, but the point is roughly true.

Firstly: universities are places of learning. That is what they are designed to do, and it would be a great sadness if that central aim was lost. It is in universities that some of the greatest discoveries and minds have been nurtured, and that should still be the case.

Secondly: university imparts life experience, of a sort. Living imparts life experience, frankly, but the university experience is a special one. All life experience is valuable, and the university experience is right for some people.

Thirdly: some courses will get you a job. Medical degree, anyone?

I was talking about this in the pub the other night, and we were all agreeing very seriously that university was brilliant and learning is ace. “We are all intellectual arseholes, though,” someone said. I'm not sure who, but the fact remains it is true. I am an intellectual arsehole, so yes, I am very biased about learning for learning's sake. It was the most fabulous four years of my life. However, there was no real reason to think that a history degree would enable me to walk into a great job and I think tricking graduates into that was a terrible mistake. With £9,000 per year at risk (plus living costs!) it is morally wrong to tell students that a degree in classics, or hospitality, or biology, will ensure them a leg-up in the job market. You are better working if that is the priority in your life.

Lest I come off a demented Daily Mail reader, I DO NOT think that the amount of money you earn is the most important thing in life. The important things I learnt in university – don't mix lager and Irn Bru, Charles II was awesome, how to actually love someone, that talking about books and films and politics is a really good thing – was something that I wouldn't trade in for the world. Would I pay £9,000 for it? Here I hesitate, a little. I was the last generation on what are now called 'low' fees, just £1,025 a year. That was a lot of money to me then. It is a lot of money to me now! But at £9,000 a year...

With a lot of thought, the answer is that yes, I would. This is because I was trained into university since I was about 11, and academia was what I was always best at. University worked for me, and it would probably work at £9,000 a year. To have had to work this out at age sixteen, when I left school, would have been terrifying. So it should have been made clear to me – and my god, I hope they're making it clear to school-leavers today – that it will not guarantee you a job, or a future. It may do, but it probably won't.

Of course, this all makes a rather large leap of logic – if, in fact, there is currently another option for young people in which they can find the skills to work. I would argue there isn't, which will probably make the prospect of university far more tempting, £9,000 fees be damned. That's an argument for another day, though.

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