Wednesday, 17 August 2011

In Defence of University

Today a survey was released about what students think of their university course.

Predictably, the conclusions were different depending on where you looked. While The Metro headline was all "No, they hate it, sod off and leave me to cry in my shared room", the Beeb's students gave a satisfied smile.

From this we can firstly conclude that the British media is like a confused, slightly mental uncle, and secondly that university isn't for everyone. Big shock there then. But it reminded me of a thought I've had a lot recently about what being a student is actually all about.

After the tuition fee debacle, which for the non-Brits basically consisted of our Government saying "Hey, Uni! Yeah, you there - listen up! You can now charge people £9,000 to get a degree! But don't worry, students. They won't." (they did), Britain's universities have rightly got a lot of bad press.

Most of the talk has centred around whether a degree is worth the £9,000 (or, err £60,000) you might end up paying for it. Whether you're a righty, lefty or couldn't careless-ly, the truth is this: if the value you place on your degree ends with the bit of paper you get at the end, the answer is probably no. It's not worth it. Unless your career choice depends on having a particular qualification, go do something else. Work experience (a couple of weeks at a time). An internship (paid). Specialised college course. Circus training. Whatever.

But since when has university been solely about the degree? My parents might disagree, but for me, getting an English BA and Masters was about indulging a love of books and getting out of my London-born mindset, where a sweaty warehouse in Kings Cross heaving with drum 'n' bass heads was the pinnacle of my social scene. It was about exchanging a comfortable, tidy life with parents for unruly accommodation shared with 30 others, where games of "bin Jenga" replaced a cleaning rota. It was about standing, swaying, and dancing drunk in a student union up North, on my own two feet. Then getting a piggy-back home.

The degree itself hasn't come up in any job interviews thus far, but those four years probably got me through the Company's door. Uni gave me an in depth knowledge of films and books I probably wouldn't have watched or read. It made Fargo one of my favourite films as opposed to, I don't know, The Shawshank flippin' cliche. It made me proof read until my eyes hurt and string together big words and ideas I'd only fleetingly remember again. And importantly, it made me a shoe-in for the Shakespeare questions in a pub quiz.

Best of all, it gave me a solid group of now London-based friends, two soon-to-be Housemates, an Ex Boyfriend, more tactical vomits than I care to remember, and an ability to slalom down a dry ski slope in 30 seconds.

My student debt wouldn't scratch the surface of what they're facing now. There's no denying it; uni is more expensive than it's ever been. But as far as I know, no one I graduated with is complaining (too loudly) about the cost now it's over with.

The experience was all.

And it seems that, through all the analysis and news articles, this little detail is always the bit that gets lost.


tenderhooligan said...

Obviously I would be nuts to say that I don't think that everyone should go to university but I will be very surprised if the new fees don't mean a huge number of young people will miss out (and fair few universities will close down). It's not feasible, it's not fair, and it's not going to work.

I agree that the experience is what is important, too, but increasingly our students are much less focused on their experience (because it costs too much) and what they will be able to do when they've finished. It's impossible to guarantee them that they will get a foot-in-the-door. Especially those who are getting 2:2s or lower.

In short, it's a very depressing state of affairs at the moment.

Redbookish said...

Tenderhoooligan is right (watch out, here comes the academic mafia!). Those of us doing our job in universities are more pushed than I ever remember, and I've been a university workaholic for 20 years. But what is depressing is that fewer students see university as part if their self-development. So it's great to read a reflection on what is of value, that is more than the first job, in a degree. Particularly an English degree, but I'm biassed there.

Anonymous said...

The state might care to remember that educated people pay more taxes.
Amongst other benefits to the government of mass education.

Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

tenderhooligan - It's annoying that everything seems to be so geared towards ousting an entire section of society away from certain experiences. From uni to internships, it's all so money-dependent.

Redbookish - Oh English degrees get such a bad rep. People always use them as an example of a degree that doesn't really get you much out of it. I personally still wouldn't have done anything else. Especially not blummin' media studies or some ilk.

Anon - Indeed they could do well to remember that. Alas, as with most things, they don't.


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