Bugger the cost, University is still worth it.

I’m noticing a worrying trend, figures don’t yet show it, but young people seem to be turning their back on universities.

Recently, students around the country received their A-level results. I can still remember the day I picked up my results, all that excitement and anxiety. I remember not being able to sleep and I remember the nightmares over what tomorrow might hold. In the end, despite some minor disappointments in terms of specific subject grades, I made it; my grades were enough to get me into my first choice of university. (we are going to pretend that the failed Oxford application didn’t happen, okay?)

University was, for me, a game changer. It offered me the chance to move away from the small town in which I was born, a chance to reinvent myself. Despite some false starts, I think I managed it. At the end of my final year, I ran for president of my student’s union; I lost, of course. The fact is, losing didn’t matter; the running was victory enough. I came to university as a shy kid, terrified of really being myself and pathologically incompetent at life. Some, my mother included, might say the final aspect hasn’t changed; nevertheless, university for me has been my space to grow, to come out of my shell, and to develop skills that will help me wherever life takes me.

It is on this basis that I will continue to advocate university to all who will listen, regardless of the cost. That doesn’t mean I think university is for everyone, or that I agree with sixth forms and schools trying to paint university as a panacea of opportunities, I really really don’t. Some people are better suited to less academic paths, to apprenticeships, to employment based advancement; some are suited to simply alternative paths such as writing or acting (yes I’m aware many actors/ performers also attend universities). Anyway, you get the picture. Different people have different talents, our society and our education system should respect that; the mechanic and the plumber, are just valuable, just as important, as the MP or the University professor.

Nevertheless, as I already stated, I will always advocate university to those who are capable and think they might have a desire to attend. For what it’s worth, I have always thought that the aim of simply having as many people as possible attend university is fundamentally misguided (thank you, Mr Blair). It not only reduces the value and achievement of being a graduate, it also heaps debt upon those who were told that attending university was their key to a better life. However, I strongly advocate that those who are, again, capable and willing consider university.

When I was 18, I really didn’t know what life would hold. I think this is one of the issues with our system, so much of the advertising and information on universities focuses on employment when most 18-year old’s still have no idea what they want to do with their lives. At 18 I thought I wanted to be a barrister, turns out I’d just been watching far too much Silk; I really don’t want to be a barrister (though seeing how fierce Maxine Peak looks in a wig still challenges this statement). Despite my choice of career path having changed, I have gained so much from studying law. Even at the most basic level, the quality of my written communication has improved so much. I think anyone familiar with my older blogs will agree.

I sailed through school, I never had to try. That really isn’t a boast, rather it’s an assertion, an assertion of why it’s so important that those who find themselves in a similar situation continue their education. The best example, in my case, is English; I always got A’s in English. I could analyse, I could write descriptively, and I could argue; I have always been able to argue. The one thing I couldn’t do is form a complex sentence, this seems to be a rather common problem. So many people seem to be leaving school, with good GCSE’s and A-levels, and yet they can’t even form a sentence. Now it’s not good that universities seem to be, evermore, the solution to this; however, it is important that we have a solution. Communication is central to all human activity, no matter what you do, being able to communicate effectively is crucial. The fact of the matter is, university catches you out, you can’t sail through anymore; If you can’t communicate effectively in essays and correspondence, you won’t do well. In this way, university forces you to improve; this improvement is prominent in numerous other areas, I merely choose English as an illustrative example.

Above merely tidying grammar, university has other unadvertised benefits. One of the biggest things I would argue one gains from university is a stepping stone to adulthood. University is, in the great majority of cases, the first time that students have lived away from home. As with any first, this brings many challenges and opportunities. Firstly, there’s the whole living with other people thing, this is so key to personal development; it may not seem it, but there is nothing better for teaching someone to cope with life’s realities than dumping them in university halls with a bunch of strangers, some of whom they will surely come to loathe. We live in an increasingly uncertain time, most young people, when they leave home, will likely be moving into uncertain and temporary accommodation; university allows young people to experience this for the first time under the protection of a support network, this is provided via the university and student’s union support services. In this way, university is able to act as a helpful stepping stone to adult life.

In addition to this, university allows an environment for students to develop as people. I really don’t think you can overstate the level of personal and identity-based development that takes place between the ages of 18 and 21; these are probably the most crucial years in terms of developing the person you present to the world. University allows an environment for these formative years to be maximised, it allows the opportunity to try new things and it creates an atmosphere for views to be formed and challenged (though this sadly seems to be in recession). In a way, the main way it helps is that it pushes people outside their comfort zone. Most will find themselves in a new city surrounded by new people from all around the world, this forces them to reconsider their ideals and to see different perspectives. Whether it is a move from the city to the country (or vice versa) or just hopping to the next town over, we gain from being away from the safety net of home, we gain the chance to grow.

You know what? Even without all these side benefits, university is worth the cost; there is still no more valuable gift you can give than an education. Regardless of what subject a student studies, they are gaining invaluable skills, skills that will help both them and the society they form a part of. Education remains a public good, and we should fight for a funding arrangement which recognises this; however, no matter where the price goes, education should never be disregarded. I don’t claim that you can’t gain these skills and experiences in other ways, travelling for example, gives one a unique and valuable sense of perspective on the world. I, however, claiming that if you are academically minded, and have a genuine interest in studying something, university remains the place for you.

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