It’s 2008. The radio is blasting out Soulja Boy – Crank That (Yeah, the dance where you got to Superman and shout ‘ohh’ lots).
The latest group of students have received their A2 results and are waiting expectantly by their laptops, tablets and phones for that critical confirmation they’ve got a place at their chosen university. Lots succeed, some fail, clearing hotlines are called, tears of sadness and joy are shed.
Suddenly, in what seems like a moment, it’s 2011. The 2008 cohort has finished university. The radio’s playing Adele – Rolling in the Deep and Someone Like You (On repeat…). Graduations are had, more tears of sadness and joy trickle down new graduates faces.
Then, for lots of these new graduates the sickening realisation that those 3 years amounted to nothing in the real world strikes. Their degrees didn’t further their careers or create the beginnings of one. Their degrees didn’t result in work. Their degrees were the greatest most foolhardy mistake they’d ever made or make.
I was in the 2008 cohort. I saw my peers destroyed by the fact that university hadn’t worked for them. Some of the common criticisms of this line of thinking are ‘Well, why did you even study that?’ and ‘You know there’s never work in X field around here, what were you thinking?’
They were thinking of one of the most misguided half-truths ever told: everybody should aspire to go to university.
The half-truth didn’t mean to hurt, it started off a social mobility policy aimed at getting more capable minds into university education in the 1990′s and early 2000′s. Fees were instituted and more places created to cater for demand.
University is seen as a golden pedestal to something greater. I was the first in my direct family to attend and this is true of most of my peers. For me, it elevated me to somewhere new, exciting, encouraging and supportive. My lecturers were outstanding and the modules engaging. I made friends for life. The same can be said for some of my peers. But, a large majority of them regret the experience and now work in fields that are completely unrelated to their degree – they’d describe it as a slow boat to nowhere.
Would they have been better served by completing a modern apprenticeship? Would developing a trade such as joinery, carpentry or becoming an electrician have been a better option? What about creating their own business – did they not take the opportunity?
The expectations of our society need to change to recognise that university is not always the most viable option. To do this, children need more careers advice throughout their education and young adults need the chance to see what else is out there. The stigma attached to ‘manual’ labour is disgusting and needs to be dispelled. The existing system of post 16 education needs to be revamped to include more access to a wider range of career paths and become more transparent and accessible. Some of the most financially solvent and happy people I know never went to university and they’re thriving.
University shouldn’t be seen as a high water mark: it’s simply another line in the sand.