The number of Western students enrolled in higher education now massively overshadows figures from just a decade ago- a stark contrast to the measly 3.4 per cent of teenagers whom attended university in 1950.
This epic shift was no accident however, and if it evokes a warm fuzzy feeling in your chest, you have been sorely misled. Not without public support, New Labour were the force behind this change, announcing in 1999 their ambition for 50% of young people to achieve a tertiary education. Unlike the party’s policy to change the face of Britain’s demographics, culture and thus voting patterns beyond recognition, through the immigration policies that have left it in post-Brexit vote turmoil, the left has just about been able to stand by its moral monopoly on education almost free of popular backlash.
Any undoing of this approach by the Cameron government was infinitesimal- e.g: the swapping of living cost assistance available to students from maintenance bursaries to mainly loans- and any real criticism of these successive governments’ approach toward pumping more kids through university as some silver-bullet solution for society and the economy has been dangerously scarce in and outside of the Westminster bubble.
It goes without saying- but I’ll state it loud & clear anyway for those in the back- that a different case must be made concerning students of medicine, engineering, law, and other subjects whose graduate professions by their nature require a specialised course of academic study.
However, there is surely little economic or even intellectual reward for the state or the individual, through three years in which a vast expenditure of time and money are used either on a course whose career prospects to student ratio are massively unbalanced, and leave most with these specialisms with zero experience in any other (workplace) environment than research. Worst still are particular ethnic, women’s, gender and other fields of ‘study’ that may be stand alone bachelors- or more often are incorporated in almost any arts degree- that appear more concerned with training-up an army of professional victims than the pursuit of knowledge or employment.
Young people are so often promised the world during the dizzying heights of their A-level results day, and then find themselves pumped through a diluted and oversubscribed education system, most attending second-rate institutions simply for the purpose of delaying full-time employment or hoping to ‘find themselves’ at the bottom of a microwaved Tupperware of baked beans while watching 3AM re-runs of ‘Law & Order’;- only if they’ve paid for a TV license of course! 21 year-olds arrive at their university graduation ceremonies with less common sense than they arrived with, and a crushing accumulation of debt for their troubles- god knows the lecturers aren’t spending it on decent suits.
We have constructed an innately unique yet paradoxical culture in which each child is told that they must aim for academic success resulting in a place at university- any other is indirectly categorised as inferior- and yet those of us whom question the value of pushing all children down this path are immediately ostracised as the elitists in the room. Personally, I have found university to be a brilliant location to learn more about my chosen subject, and a platform to befriend and network with like-minded people, and yet there is no real reason why this should be exclusive to such an expensive and time-consuming option of university.
Media outlets, businesses, and all manner of employers so often request CVs from graduates not because their specific degree indicates a certain required skills or knowledge, but because it has simply become a rough mark of the middling-sort rather than proof of rigorous academic experience (see: the basic economics of supply & demand). When confronting the choice of attending university, the question is no longer why? But rather, why not? If you’re planning to spend your time there penning feminist slam poetry and not much else, I’d say give it a miss.