As British college and sixth-form students learn their A-level results today, those who have failed to meet the grades required or those who have come to question their UCAS choices may attempt to go through the clearing process – the last-minute university application system – and study something new and unexpected.
What you would perhaps be surprised to find, however, is the president of the National Union of Students, Toni Pearce, not only going through clearing, but asking her Twitter followers which subject she should apply to read. She tweeted: ‘Right, the general mood seems to be that I should apply to study maths.. What do people think? #NUSclearing’. She followed this up with: ‘Well, I’ve narrowed down my options to Maths, English and History because those were my best A levels.’
Yes, A-level students attempting to narrow down which subject to read for the next three years may well be indecisive - even more so if they have a wide range of intellectual interests. But what this tweeting display from the NUS president displays is something else entirely: that is, an incredibly blasé attitude to the study of a particular subject at university level. By asking her Twitter followers to decide her choice of university subject, on the final deadline for applications, she demonstrates how little thought she has given to what she will be studying at university. All that matters, it seems, is the act of going to university. The actual subject to be read is a side issue.
Pearce’s actions demonstrate the all-too-common devaluation of what it means to read a subject today. University, here, is seen as little more than three gap years of fun between waking up at 7.30am for school and waking up at 7.30am for work. Oh, and you can plonk it on your CV, too. As widespread as this attitude is today, you would hope that at the very least the president of the National Union of Students would continue to value the importance of what it means to read a subject at university. Then again, judging by NUS’s track record, perhaps not.
Tom Bailey is a recent graduate and a former spiked intern.