Your generation coped without degrees, I’m not sure all of ours can
In and amongst the furore over Gove moving the goalposts of GCSE grades in the past few weeks, have been the annual patronising protestations from the older generation about how ‘they never went to university and look how far they got’.
This sort of rhetoric parroted every year by a generation laughably removed from the youth employment market is dangerously naive. It takes a legitimate criticism of the education system as too focused on academics and turns it into an outdated sermon on enterprise and self-sufficiency.
The oft cited example used to justify the claim that university is worthless is the belief that they can all became apprentice carpenters, electricians or plumbers instead. This however is based on the ludicrous assumption that these skills based apprenticeships are in abundance. The government may have increased the number of apprenticeships available by 60% but they did this largely by stretching the definition of what an apprenticeship is: BBC Panorama reported that 1 in 10 of the new apprenticeships offered in 2010-11 came from supermarket giant Morrison’s.
A 2:2 BA Honours in Golf Management from the University of Huddersfield probably wouldn’t get you as far in life initially than a first in Economics from the University of Cambridge but you’d fancy your chances with it more than with a BTEC in shelf stacking.
Another problem is people forget a university degree is more than the dry facts tutors pour into your head.
Many cite the example of a relative of hers and one or two others who succeeded without going to university. However they fail to understand that they are exceptions rather than the rule. For every Alan Sugar who left school at 15, there are thousands, maybe millions more that flounder and fail in ways they wouldn’t have had someone sat them in a lecture hall at 18. There are so many variables when it comes to success; meeting the right people, being in the right place at the right time and, most importantly, confidence. For many this can only be found by going to university.
I would not be writing this article or indeed have achieved everything that I have done in the past three years without having gone to university. I may still be working unpaid, I may still have a mountain of debt hanging over my head and my liver may have suffered a bit of a battering in the past few years but I still maintain that going to university is the best decision I have ever made. Of course, I escaped the higher tuition fees that are going to hit those entering higher education now but I think that even for my younger sister, who was one of the thousands of teenagers getting her GCSE results two weeks ago, university will probably still be the best thing she will ever do.
I didn’t technically ‘have’ to go to university and my degree classification is not going to be the thing that swings an employer’s opinion in my favour. When I was first commissioned by The Independent they didn’t ask to see my degree certificate and the other organisations I’ve worked or freelanced for have only ever given it a cursory glance on my CV. However, without the prospect of higher education, I would have never thought to leave home at eighteen, join my student newspaper and attempt to become a journalist. All aspiration would have been out of the question. I would have settled into a badly paid office or shop job and been comfortable but miserable for the rest of my life. University gave me the time and the incentive to develop the skills I need now I’m in the real world that I could never have developed on my own.
I have known people who have succeeded without going to university and it is of course not for everyone. However, to call it a ‘con’ for the majority of people who do need it to make their first mark on the world is insulting.
When minimum wage (and sometimes no wage) low level office grunt work is being advertised as a ‘graduate job’ how do you suppose those without a degree survive, let alone succeed? We go on about vocational skills and apprenticeships as a better alternative when truthfully there are none. Yes, maybe there are too many people going to university. Yes, some people do break through on their own but these exceptional opportunities are thin on the ground and often for those who are merely lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.
Grade inflation has meant that, for even the most basic office job, A-Levels are required in a boom and an undergraduate or even a Masters degree is required in a recession. Decent, paying entry level jobs are scarce and more and more young people are finding themselves permanently unemployable. Who are we to say that people should give up on the one route that seems to hold some promise?
We look down our noses at ‘Mickey Mouse degrees’ as if they are letting the ‘unworthy’ into university. We forget that it is not the university you go to or the course you take there that matters; it’s the confidence and drive that it generates that inspires greatness in the most unlikely of candidates.Tagged in: degree, education, gcse, gove, grades, university
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