|Photo: Camilla Devereux|
|Photo: Times Higher Education|
As I approach the end of my third year of my undergraduate degree, I’ve been looking back at my higher education and thinking about the future. Trying to sort through my options, I’ve been petrified by the sheer number of choices that lay before me. I’ve had a lot of questions.
One question has lingered in my mind longer than most, and it’s one that really refuses to budge —
Was my university education really worth it?
In August, A-level results are released in the UK. In September, the wheel turns and a new colony of freshers descends onto UK campuses for another year. This year there will be a group of school-leavers with more than adequate grades who will not be joining those starting at university.
These young people will not spend a year on a dodgy student mattress in university halls, but interning, travelling, setting up their own businesses, and working their socks off in realms outside academia. Most of them are more than smart enough to cope with higher education, but they’ll choose another path.
And that’s okay.
I’ve always been a bit jealous of those who choose not to go to university, especially when I’ve been eating cereal at 2am trying to finish off my seminar readings. Some of my friends who have not gone to university have been astonishingly successful in their chosen pursuits.
Higher education in the UK is in a very different place today than it was when my parents were my age. There’s been a huge generational shift in the past 50 years. Many polytechnic colleges have re-established themselves as fully fledged universities. The “student experience” has become commercially fetishised as “the best time of your life”, with the social opportunities available often seen as a greater lure than the notion of studying itself. Now, almost everyone wants in on higher education, and having the opportunity to get a degree has become a culturally engrained right.
However, as attitudes toward higher education have shifted, the cost of getting a degree has increased. Students today are lumbered with large amounts of debt following the completion of their degrees. The cost of living in the UK’s cities is increasing exponentially. Hidden costs, such as the price of books, laptops and printing, all add up to a rather unpleasant yearly sum.
Working during the completion of an undergraduate degree is undoubtedly a difficult but necessary part of higher education for many students.
My parents did not pay a bean to study environmental science at university. This was in the 1970s. There were not as many graduates knocking about back then, and securing a career after university seemed a little bit easier, I think, than it is today.
Now, with more institutions and greater cultural incentives to go to university, the premium on being a graduate has dropped. Competition for graduates in a “saturated” market is, to be honest, rather cut-throat.
Many of those I know who decided not to go to university did so because they simply couldn’t afford to go. They’ve worked for those four years I’ve spent studying. They’ve come out the other side without any debt and have established themselves in careers that they really enjoy. Some did not go to university because they secured a good internship opportunity. Others just didn’t feel ready to go, or didn’t want the university experience because they simply felt they wouldn’t enjoy it.
With all these factors in mind, I’ve been thinking: Has the value of a degree dropped so much that going to university is not worth the grand sums that you pay for it?
Unfortunately, there’s no right answer here. As ever, each answer will be based on individual experience.
Source: Times Higher Education