On not going to university

Jennifer Richards

Topics Politics

With an increasing number of students heading to university each year, the value of a university degree is not the same as it once was. Even the word ‘value’ indicates that universities have become more like businesses rather than places of education. As the graduate market becomes more saturated, it is becoming more interesting to tell an interviewer why you chose not to go to university. In an interview with The Sunday Times earlier this year, Clarissa Farr, high mistress of St Paul’s Girls’ School in London (apparently the best-performing school in Britain), stated how it will soon be seen as ‘acceptable for bright students not to go to university’, indicating this ‘could be a more exciting and faster route to the top’.

Universities seem increasingly to focus on the so-called student experience over the students’ education, with universities putting huge resources into public relations, league tables and student surveys. University has become the place for teenagers to go when they wish to delay being an adult, rather than being the bridge to independence it was once considered to be. As someone who chose to leave university, it felt like I was simply putting my life on hold for three years, when I really wanted to jump into the world of work. This feeling was further enhanced by spending time on campus, where it felt like all students were being kept together and shielded from the outside world.

Now, I’m not anti-university. Achieving a university degree is hard work, and many jobs require degree-level knowledge. In fact, any form of education is valuable. But, the problem is, students are funnelled into a university education without the chance to consider if it’s what’s best for them. Other opportunities, like apprenticeships, internships or going straight into work, are not suggested to many students as schools wish to boost their proportion of ‘high achievers’. But this means many students only arrive at university to discover it is not the right path for them. Many students have simply felt pressured to go. But if university is meant to be about creating independent thinkers, shouldn’t students be given the independence to decide whether they want to go in the first place?

A further reason many young people are now reconsidering whether university is the best option for them is the fees. Some subjects, like science, include the cost of the lab equipment and the conducting of experiments. But, for a history degree, paying £9,000 a year seems like a lot of money for some essay feedback, a few reading lists and the odd lecture or seminar.

The reason I initially decided to go to university was because I enjoyed learning and I felt university was the only place I’d be able to continue my education. But learning isn’t just confined to studying, essays and tests. In fact, since leaving university it’s been nice to rediscover learning simply for the joy of it – reading around the subjects I love, watching TEDTalks and taking part in public debates.

University is a form of education, yes, but it’s not the only form. Many people do thrive at university, but I don’t think it should be seen as the only route, and something everyone must do if they wish to succeed. There are so many opportunities out there that young people should be allowed to explore before deciding for themselves whether university is the best option for them. And if it’s not? That’s okay, too.

Jennifer Richards is a writer.

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Topics Politics


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