Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Fewer students is not a bad thing

Getting into university is not The X Factor - Andrew Haldenby (Comment piece in the Times, yesterday)

If you can overcome the Tory rhetoric and get to the main point of the article, Andrew Haldenby makes a very valid point. Since when has a university education been everyone’s entitlement, as opposed to the reward for those exceptional and dedicated enough to deserve it?

It seems that Labour’s intention of making higher education accessible to all young people regardless of their financial situation got somewhat misguided and ended up making it accessible to all young people regardless of their intellectual ability.

Ironically, this has created a situation where a British degree is practically worthless when applying for jobs, which means that those successful in their chosen career are those with the financial means to support themselves while doing countless unpaid internships and work experience programmes.

This is especially true in the field of journalism, where a work placement (ie working for free) actually constitutes part of our degree, and yet we are expected to schedule it for the Summer holidays, when students are usually working in order to be able to support themselves during term time.

Perhaps it would be a more logical approach to limit university places to applicants good enough to deserve them and fund these selected few so that they aren’t forced into thousands of pounds of debt before they even have their first job.

Like Andrew said, if you don’t win the X Factor, you don’t demand Simon Cowell creates more first places, you accept that you are not good enough and move on.


  1. That should be 'fewer students' - BB

  2. I see your point but more people going to university gives opportunities that some might never have come across and just because you were not 'good enough' before does not mean you can't become better with a good education. Lisa

  3. I do agree with what you said. The status that was attached to going to university has long gone, i feel it is the easy option or the only option to buy you some time before you have to get a job and face reality.
    They do need to do something though to limit the places as more and more people are going to uni and there isn't enough jobs.
    I do feel a degree has become pointless as, like you said in journalism, it is about the experience and your portfolio.
    However cutting the amount of funding available for those who cant afford it is the wrong way to go, as is increasing the fees.

  4. I fail to see the automatic correlation between facilitating access to higher education and lowering the prestige of a university degree.
    If a student does not meet the standards required to graduate then no degree will be obtained. So, even if more students embark on degree courses only a proportion of them will leave with this qualification.

    Moreover, there is another vital dimension to "going to uni" which is being ignored. Many people would label those years as the best, and in many cases this has nothing to do with the course itself. It is an unmatched opportunity for personal growth and development in which young people can, hopefully, develop socially and become increasingly confident and autonomous individuals better prepared for life.

    I belong to the last generation in Britain to enjoy grants not loans, whereby if there wasn´t much money at home you would automatically receive a maintenance grant. Oh yes, and fees were only paid by foreign students no matter what your income was.

    I should also add that I live in Spain and have not been privvy to any comments vis-à-vis the diminishing status of the British degree. If indeed the quality of undergraduates is of concern, then perhaps we need to examine how well the reformed A level courses prepare our students for higher education.
    Are we just scared of being labelled elitist? Are we right to be scared? By definition University education is and should remain selective - though never at the cost of poorer students.