University education needs to be capped and more selective
With thousands more students graduating from university every year, Britain has more graduates than ever before, and it is becoming harder for potential employers to distinguish candidates by education alone, meaning a degree has less and less value in the workplace.
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A university degree has far less worth than it once did
Fifty years ago, a university degree was so much rarer than it is now. Having one immediately distinguished you from the competition when it came to starting a career. With so many graduates leaving university every year, the marketplace is becoming flooded, and those who really need to set themselves apart from the rest in their academic field are having to stay longer to do post-graduate courses. This means much higher debts upon graduation, and also means that they are older and have less 'practical' workplace experience than some others, giving them one possible disadvantage, even though they've gained another.
Distinctions can be still be made between those who entered university simply for a more ‘rounded’ education or as a stop gap before working full-time, and those who attended university for the sole purpose of furthering their career.
It is beneficial that a crowded marketplace means that people are having to stay on at university longer in order to gain more unique qualifications – this means that those in the top jobs have far more knowledge and education than they would have 50 years ago when further qualifications were not needed for distinction.
With so many new universities and colleges, employers can't tell the difference between the good and bad.
There are so many new universities and colleges opening to meet the huge and growing demand for higher education, that many employers have no idea how to distinguish the poorer institutions from the better ones (and sometimes fail to realise there is any difference at all). This leads them to believe that a candidate from Edinburgh University who has a 2.1 degree is the same as another from Oxford Brooks who holds the same level of degree. A call for greater distinction is not merely snobbery, but actually founded on fact – not only do the entry requirements for universities differ, but they also differ hugely in terms of the type and level of education they provide.
Scottish universities (particularly the Ancients which are St Andrews, Edinburgh and Glasgow) require an undergraduate to undertake a range of different subjects in the first two years in order to complete a degree, rather then focusing on just one. Thus a student leaves university with a range of advanced disciplines, even though on paper, it seems as if they have the same education as those from an English university.
Employers don't just consider an applicant's educational background, but increasingly look at vocational experience and extra-curricular activities (admittedly this may be largely to do with the fact that there are simply so many applicants with very similar degrees and educational backgrounds)
Those who have prior work experience in their chosen field or who can demonstrate relevant work-place skills in other ways will often have the edge over someone with a degree.
Employers are not too busy to be au fait with university rankings, such as the Times' list, or to remember that the Russell group tends to be the best universities, especially when they have dedicated HR departments as the larger employers do.
The argument that more universities dilute the quality signal sent by holding a degree is premised on static, unsophisticated employers that do not engage in ranking the quality of an education. This is a short term cost because any firm that seeks to gain a competitive advantage over its peers would invest the resources into differentiating the quality of education; further, the argument that small employers cannot afford to do this is also limited to the very short term: as more firms adopt this practice, the cost of acquiring this information decreases significantly (not to mention the many surveys and academic studies that keep track of this for profitable reasons).
Many don't 'use' their degree after graduating, yet still end up in huge debt
Because the government's drive to see 50% of the young population through university over the next 10 years (Tony Blair, 2003) many young people take the step of higher education to please their parents, keep up with their peers, or simply because they don't want to start thinking about a career and full time employment.
The result of this is that more students drop out of university before completing their qualification than ever before because they took it for the wrong reasons, and yet still end up in debt.
That is their prerogative. No one forces people to go into higher education, and the financial risks are clear from the outset. Young people should be free to make the decision about university study for themselves, not have an authoritarian state tell them who can and can't receive the great benefits (beside academic) that a university education provides.
There's a national shortage of skilled labourers
The increase of university goers over the past decade or so means that fewer and fewer people are learning skilled trades such as those of an electrician, plumber, carpenter, joiner or builder. As a result there is a national shortage. Many labourers are having to be employed from overseas, and while this in itself is not a problem, it does show a lack of diversity in Britain. This can often produce a shortage of labourers in other countries (for example Poland) making the problem more widespread.
There’s also a shortage of doctors, social workers, teachers, and other academic specialists that require a university education. Reducing the number of university students through more rigorous selection would not necessarily solve either of these problems. Instead, there should be more enticing financial and advancement incentives for both academic and skilled labour jobs that are lacking in demand.
Many don’t ‘use’ their degree after graduating, yet still end up in huge debt
When filling in their UCAS form, the average 17 year old will inevitably deliberate over which University to go to; which course is going to be the most interesting and where they going to have the most fun (not necessarily in that order). In general, very little time will be spent thinking about exactly what job they will be qualified to do at the end of the three years and whether any jobs will in fact be available.
Universities are more and more frequently departing from traditional career orientated subjects such as accountancy, medicine and law. Instead they are focusing their marketing efforts on attracting new students with unusual subjects such as ‘American Studies’ or a degree combining two subjects of your choice; for example the interesting combination of ‘Dance and Journalism’. These options may well be appealing at first sight but after three years of studying these in depth, students can often find themselves saddled with a large amount of debt and few transferable skills. Having personally known two individuals who actually undertook the above courses, I can tell you that the first person is now living in America, as this is the only place where American Studies is any advantage. The other is in the business of repossessing homes, having found it extremely difficult to secure a job as a singing/dancing journalist!
The experience of University is invaluable and there is undoubtedly much more to be gained beyond the piece of paper handed over upon graduation. However, it should be borne in mind that the main objective of a degree is to provide an individual with the skills and specialist knowledge to financially support themselves and build a career in the future. It should not be possible for an individual to invest three years or more of their time and money into a University education and remain unable to secure a job they desire at the end of it.
Many university courses now actively address the issue of transferable skills and help students realise how their degree work applies to their CV.
There are plenty of skills one can get from most degrees - meeting deadlines, communication, teamwork and working independently being some of the more obvious ones. Taking a degree demonstrates that the candidate has shown serious commitment to their education at a non-compulsory stage, and seen it through to completion.
A large number of graduate vacancies merely specify that the candidate needs a degree, rather than a specific subject. This demonstrates that they have faith that a degree in itself is a mark of merit, and that graduates will have skills aside from the specific subject-related ones.
There is not the need for the number of graduates being produced
There is a recognised shortage of front-line, hands-on practitioners, in the form of plumbers, electricians, service men and women (police, fire and medical), etc. This, coupled with a demonstrable shortage of engineering, mathematics and science graduates, produces an over-population of humanities and media graduates who may have been better suited to other professions or workplaces.
For some reason, academic achievement is considered more important that engaging in a career that you want, or that you are exceptionally well-suited to. Sir Ken Robinson[http://bit.ly/rkYC6D & http://bit.ly/paSYmD%5D%5D, talking for TED, tells the story of a fireman who always wanted to be a fireman. When he was a child, he was told "You can do better than that", meaning he could do a 'proper' job, by getting a 'proper' education. But he wanted to be a fireman.
When he saved the life of his teacher and his teacher's wife, he said "I hope he thinks better of me now".
We should encourage people to follow careers that they enjoy or are well-suited to, or both - not just assume that a university education is the paramount achievement. What is the ultimate outcome of a perfect education? University professors; not valuable services.
We do not realise how many fantastic gardener's, artists, writers and eletricians and service men we are losing because of the pressure society put into the individual to sign up. This is because everybody thinks that it is easier to become enrolled into a university.
I agree that no-one should feel pressured that one career or education path is better - however, you are hypocritically advocating the same thing to happen in the opposite direction! While no-one should feel that university is the only choice and that it is all about prestige, similarly they shouldn't feel that they can't choose their own life path.
I, personally, would support incentives for people to move into skill areas that are most needed - however, that is vastly different from intentionally making it impossible for some people to achieve their full potential. This is their lives - they should do what they enjoy the most and want to do with it. They have the right to determine their destiny.
And if that's detrimental to the economy, or otherwise, that's a shame - but ultimately you cannot force people to sacrifice their humanity and their life goals for the sake of others. If they choose to, we should definitely welcome and support that. But there will never be a time, no matter how dire the circumstances, when we can tell people that their own dreams don't matter.
Selective education leads to an unfair bias towards the rich and the middle classes
If more selective higher education were to happen, we would revert back to 50 years ago where hardly anyone from a working class background had the chance to go to university because of social prejudice and a lower income than the middle classes.
This would lead in turn to those from middle class backgrounds being favoured by employers as they would be more likely to have a university education, and the lower classes would be stuck with the unwanted, lower paid, manual labour.
We should do all we can to strive for a meritocratic society and not move backwards away from one.
You say that it will not be based on the basis of social or financial background. But how can you regulate this? In countries where the government doesn't make significant contributions towards an individual's tertiary education, personal finances are the only way to attend university, and that must be balanced by a person's other daily costs etc. In that way, without strong financial backing attending university and surviving concurrently would become rather difficult!
Furthermore, whether we like it or not, the fact is that in our society higher income does mean better education. If your parents rich you will have attended the best schools, have had access to the best resources etc. Someone who grows up in a single-parents household on the minimum wage obviously would not, and therefore, regardless of their true potential, their academic results and educational outcomes would reflect their financial circumstances. Therefore, even if it is correct to say that entry would not be directly affected by a person's financial background, it almost definitely would be indirectly.
It is a curious fact that people actually believe educational outcomes are a result of 'talent', rather than circumstance. Most children who end up in the few grammar schools left come from middle class or well-off families.
if we took 10% less people in Universities like Oxford or Cambridge many people of whom have worked all their life of a chance to get in to a red brick University. Since 100's of people worke to get these grades get let down just because the other child had a better schooling from his partents money.
Many students strive of a education at Oxford but most let down, because of these caps.
Our hard work for nothing!
More selective higher education does not have to mean that it selects on the basis of social or financial background. It means selecting on the basis of academic achievement and potential. This would not have the negative effects on the lower classes as it once did, as this would be undesirable for everybody.
Students don't always attend university simply for career advancement
Those who attend university often gain a lot more than simply attaining another qualification to help them in their career. Most undergraduate students have never lived away from home, so living in a safe, regulated university environment proves very helpful in making the adjustment between parental dependency and an independent life.
Students also often find themselves having to financially support themselves, at least in part, and this is invaluable for self-confidence and also imbues them with the basic skills needed in later working life.
Reducing the amount of students attending universities would also reduce the amount of young people with these social and financial skills, and unless other institutions are set up in place of universities to provide these skills, there is more to be lost than gained in making them more selective.
There are plenty of other ways that young people can learn financial, social and career skills without spending thousands of pounds that will take them years to pay off.
There are youth services, career services and plenty of different apprenticeship programmes that teach these skills, and many others besides, and often fast track people into appropriate work environments.
Wide university education produces a literate, multi-skilled and widely knowledgeable nation
The more people who attend university, the more widely read the nation becomes, and the more culturally diverse. It is important for young people to be widely read and educated in order to enhance their artistic and cultural appreciation. Where else can one get this if not university?
Those who end up ruling the country are the ones that went to university. The democratic process does not work. It would be foolish for poorer people to not pursue a path that allows them at least a chance of being part of the power system. Being a plumber, while useful, is no way to do that.
For an able youngster, it would be unwise to forgo a likelihood of a good future simply to avoid debt.
Quite apart from the fact that the nation also needs to learn more practical skills (which one cannot learn through most university educations), there are many ways in which one can become culturally aware, widely read and more 'artistic' without the long years and large debt of a university education.
The British media has improved so much and become so diverse that there are many high quality documentaries that have brought a wider education to those with interest outside university. Libraries, evening classes, and the internet can provide all the education one could want to those with a specific interest but with no real urge for a degree or career in that field.
If self-education were promoted more in this manner, and university was kept separate for those who wanted to learn for career advancement rather than education for education's sake, then thousands of young people would be more financially and vocationally secure.
Capping admissions is a sub-optimal method of improving the value of university education.
It is essentially analogous to DeBeers horading diamonds to artificially raise the price of the few diamonds it does make available to the market. In the example, those in favor of the proposition would claim that rising diamond prices are indicative of higher quality--any price gain over inflation relects a greater demand for a diamond. The problem here is that the proponents are focusing on the individual diamond rather than the aggregate diamond market. Just as allowing more diamonds to hit the market would reduce prices, so does more university students reduce the relative value of a college education. However, the aggregate economy is left better off because more people are learning how to think at a much more productive level (essentially the main purpose of state-sponsered education to begin with). Further, I would argue that competitive pressures would encourage students to differentiate themselves in more creative and value-driven ways. In the United States, this is seen in the practice of obtaining internships over the summer, which have the added bonus of reducing transition costs that occur in the shift from the educational to employment environment.
We need more universities as the population is growing!
More universities are absolutely necessary because of demographic trends. The baby-boomer generation is seeing their children off to university which requires more institutions to meet this rise in college-age population. Capping admissions would unfairly punish the progeny of baby-boomers and would most certainly result in migration to nations that are willing to meet the rising demand for a university education.
What do you think?