Educated to degree level

Another story from The Guardian (it’s the paper I read every day so you’ll just have to get used to a lot of the links being from there) has made me think again about the myths we are peddling to teenagers. Yesterday we look a little at the financial myths that graduates are fed by the media. Today I want to look at the myths peddled by schools on the advice of the government.

Nearly 190,000 A-level students have missed out on a university place due to unprecedented demand. Fair enough, you may think. Labour spent a lot of its time saying that they wanted 50% of young people to go to university, this is just simple supply and demand.

Except a few things are troubling me. One is this quote from Kenton Lewis, a student recruiter at the University of London, who said that students should “look at applying for slightly less competitive universities”. Hang on. I thought the point was that ALL universities were competitive this year. Otherwise there may have been less than 190,000 students without a place. And it’s not like students who are predicted three Cs are all applying for courses that require three A*s. Plenty of students with top grades have not got a place due to ‘competitiveness’ and why in hell should they lower their standards? They worked hard, they got top marks – anything at C and above in A-levels is a considerable accomplishment – and they couldn’t get a place.

Not only that, but they couldn’t get a place in clearing. Why should they want to shift their focus from Warwick to Kent? Why should they expect less than what they gave?

The other thing that concerned me was the story of one of the students, who, when ringing up a university to inquire about Clearing, was told that as a domestic student there was no place available. Had she been an international student, she may have got in, and paid the higher fees to do so. Again, fair to a certain point. Universities have to fund themselves somehow and the givernment isn’t exactly about to cough up. But there should be places, and not quotas. If a domestic student rings about Clearing and you have a place, you give it to them providing they meet the requirements. Because being able to pay higher fees isn’t a requirement for most courses (alas, it is for a lot of universities but hopefully you see my distinction).

Finally, and I promise this is my last rant, the issue that the last student found: “After I missed my grades, there was a lot on the news about the government wanting people to take up vocational courses and apprenticeships, or set up their own business. But , having spent two years looking at university courses, none of these really appealed to me.”

The government pushes students towards university through schools and career services, potentially because it looks good in country comparisons, it means that universities can fund themselves and stop asking for government money, and because graduates will earn more over their lifetime than non-graduates and therefore pay more tax. But it doesn’t provide enough places for all these students to actually go to university. It’s not like next year the 190,000 will be able to get in – they’ll be facing another 750,000 students wanting to get in as well.

For all they talk about apprenticeships and vocational training, far too few students are being pushed towards these. And even fewer are being told that it’s ok to go out to work at the age of 18, that you can have a good career path, that people won’t look down on you.The majority of jobs do not require a degree.

This is partly the government’s greed and pride. But it’s also the unnecessary standards that employers have when recruiting. Every single position I have ever applied for has requested ‘educated to degree-level’ and sometimes even asked for a specific grade. But none of the jobs that I have done have required anything I did within my degree. You can argue that degrees also bring maturity and a way of working with different people – I argue that plenty of 18 year olds have this skill as well. Experience, common sense and enthusiasm are far greater assets to have in a job than a degree.

Until employers stop this arbitrary condition of degree requirements, until the government starts pushing vocations and apprenticeships as fervently as degrees, we are always going to end up with hundreds of thousands of disappointed 18 year olds wondering why it didn’t work out when they did everything right.

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