University at all cost?

Do all other professions have seasons? My only experience is of education & that is always in a season! We have the ‘starting the year’, ‘mock exams’, ‘proper exams’, ‘results’ seasons. In between we have some normal ‘let’s just teach children & help them learn’ time.
At the moment we are in the Results Season. For quite a few years now this is the time when the media goes out of its way to try to rubbish the results of the students who have worked really hard.  The game has been to compare what the various ‘harder’ pre-cursor exams were & show that education is being ‘dumbed’ down.
This year has seen a slight change in this activity. The debate about the percentage of high grades in ‘A’ levels has been put aside to discuss the lack of available places at University. There has been much made of those with the highest grades not being able to go onto the higher education institution of their choice. The current recession & the cuts to budgets have been cited as the cause of this
An interesting piece was posted by Liz Jarvis on the subject entitled Don’t ALL our kids deserve to go to Uni? Certainly that seems to be the expectation. Where did it come from though? Centuries ago when I was at school (!) not everyone went to University or wanted to. Choices post-secondary included technical colleges or polytechnics. These would offer training for those wishing to move more into industry. There were teacher training colleges (hands up those of you who remember them!) for those wishing to teach. Then there were firms offering formal apprenticeships & finally there was the choice of going & getting a job.

Alarqam Islamic School

Universities offer a degree. In my day, you would not think about going there unless the career you had in mind needed it.
It appears that the desire for equal opportunities has resulted in a proliferation of courses that in the past would not have been provided by a University.
I suspect this requirement has brought about an increase in the number of courses, and in turn, students, leading to a restriction in the numbers able to do those ‘traditional’ subjects. Somehow this feels like a ‘cart before the horse’ situation. Should we not find out what skills the country needs & focus on those? Clearly one of the differences between now & the then mentioned above is that there were jobs available for people to go into.
Have universities gone, in further education terms, from being ‘grammar schools’ to ‘comprehensive schools’ where there is a much broader range of skills /ability levels? If that is the case, does that also mean that a number of highly skilled people who can only follow their chosen career path via a university degree (lawyer, doctor etc) are missing out on that opportunity in favour of others who could perhaps get the training they require elsewhere? Accordingly, what will the ongoing impact be on this country’s ability to compete in the world market?

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  • I went to University in 1982 and studied Geography, purely because it was “my best subject”. I had no idea what I wanted to do, it was just the right thing at the time to continue my education because I was deemed to be academic. After University I joined a Graduate training programme with a big retailing company and my career thereafter had nothing to do with Geography at all. Yet University was a fantastic experience and although I could have joined the same company at 16 or 18, I wouldn’t change any of my decisions.
    My rambling here still doesn’t answer your question though! All I can say is there needs to be establishments for both academic study and vocational courses: it’s just whether they need to be in a single ‘University’ that we need to address?

    • Anonymous

      Thank you so much for visitng my new blog. Geapgraphy was one subject I really couldn’t get to grips with! You’re right about the experience Uni gives you though!

  • Anonymous

    Hi Julia, really interesting topic and one close to my heart. I can only speak of the changes I’ve observed from my varsity days. Back when I went to University (in 1985) in NZ, some kids were still leaving school at 15 and getting a job, others were getting University Entrance (the next qualification) and getting in to a technical course, and others went to university. We all qualified for bursary assistance and no one really left their course (either University or tech) owing very much at all. There was a general societal expectation that university was a baseline qualification for a professional career and there was a proliferation of general courses. Being as I was only 16 when I went to University, I did a general course – a BA in English. The career I eventually ended up in didn’t really exist when I was at university, and since then I have ‘changed my job’ at least five or six times. I loved those years, they were a revelation, and I thanked God every single day that I lived in a country that gave me the opportunity to go to university. It seems as if everything has changed over the past two decades. Kids are now narrowing their choices right at GCSE level. How the hell can my son know what his life calling is, at age 16? There seems to be a qualification for everything from refuse collecting to plucking eyebrows. Why? What happened to the days when the university of life provided the core experience for many? I don’t think there should be an expectation of a university course for everyone. Some people simply aren’t academic, they have practical skills and talents. Some people actually just want to go to work each day and ask no more from that work than it pays their bills. So – in a roundabout thinking-as-I-type way, I believe there is too much emphasis on university for everyone, and way too much pressure to categorise and pigeon hole kids into a vocational direction at too early an age. Why is this when most adults will these days have more of a boutique career, doing five or six different job profiles during the course of a lifetime. Why do we feel it is imperative that everyone go to university, hence putting signicant strain on resources, when it is simply clear that not everyone will thrive in a university environment, nor do they need a university degree to thrive?

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for your thoughts V. I do worry that this ‘all or nothing’ approach will lead the country into a bit of a pickle!

  • It’s a really tricky one, isn’t it. On the one hand I’m a big believer in equality and giving people equal chances. On the other hand I agree with Sharon that we can’t have the country purely populated by lawyers and doctors, and university for a plumbing degree doesn’t seem like the right approach either.

  • Dianne Spencer

    I think that I am right in saying that the UK has the most tested children in the world. Not something that we should be proud of. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could say that we have the most creative children in the world? Or the most innovative? Sadly my experience of university life does not lead me to believe that our university students are going to be either innovative or creative. The teaching methodologies and pedagogies do not appear to have changed much in the 20 years since I qualified and I know that many of our youngsters WILL NOT learn best from the lecture model of learning. What a shame that we have devalued our youth training schemes so that the only option left is to go to Uni. There is no doubt that this model will fail many of our youngsters.

  • I totally agree, it shouldn’t be university at any cost. My eldest two both went to university, one got a Business Studies Degree the other a degree in Graphic Design, they both now work in those areas. Ten years later, my third son decided he didn’t want to go and run up debts, which is almost inevitable these days. And what message does that give, telling our children it’s OK to start your working life in debt? So he got a job in a kitchen and now aged 21, is Sous Chef at one of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants. A couple of years later, my daughter didn’t get the grades she needed (which is even harder when everyone else seems to be getting A*s) so she started working in the hotel industry and now has a job in Mayair as a receptionist.
    We need people with practical skills, otherwise the country would grind to a halt and we shouldn’t be patronising of those who do those jobs, they are probably more value than someone being paid to do some obscure research project, the outcome of which could be predicted by using common sense!

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for your comments. I do agree that it is so damaging if people feel they have failed if they have not gone to Uni or passed the exams.

  • When I grew up the expectation was that I would go to university not for vocational reasons (although it was understood that this would improve my long term earning prospects) but for learning’s sake. I do think it’s a shame if kids embark on purely vocational courses. On the one hand of course if they do then they may be improving their employment prospects. On the other hand, they may leave college only to discover (as in the case of many kids who graduated with law degrees in the past two years) that their chosen jobs market has precious few vacancies. Over the past few years I’ve known many university-educated people be made redundant while two people very close to me, neither of whom went to uni, have continued to enjoy promotions and pay rises. I really don’t know what the answers are – but what I would hate to see is a return to the bad old days when kids from poorer backgrounds were thrust towards the jobs market at the age of 16 instead of being encouraged to continue their education and improve their long term earning potential.

    • Anonymous

      I agree that we must not go back to the time when money was the key. Like you, I’m not sure where it is going. Thank you for commenting & for giving me the prompt for the post!

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