For decades governments have come up with targets for increasing the number of people going to university in the manner of pig iron production statistics from the Soviet era.
Just this week it was reported that the number of UK university admissions was up by 1% to 522,000.
Yet the point of enrolling at university has become less and less clear. The prestige has gone – partly due to the very ubiquity of degree courses.
Certainly for past generations winning a place at university was a great breakthrough. It was a heartening indicator of social mobility – rather than the ossified boss class complacently remaining on top.
Of course, for those smaller number of families where there was a tradition to attend a particular college the fulfilment of that expectation was just as important.
But these days, does anyone really give a stuff?
We live in an age where deference has become a nostalgic joke. It becomes ever harder to make a plausible claim that university is an automatic route to success – or that not going means a lifetime of toil and servitude, locked out from a world of fame and riches enjoyed by the elite.
In my own case I struggle to see how missing out on university has been of any tangible disadvantage.
In my trade of journalism it has been pretty irrelevant. The university of life has served me well – as it has others whose ideas and businesses have proved vastly successful.
When Sir Clive Sinclair invented the first pocket calculator in the 1970s, or the first home computer in the 1980s, nobody cared that he hadn’t been to university. And when Sir Richard Branson was busy selling records nobody minded that he had left school at 16.
Of course paper qualifications are still necessary for particular jobs. But the return to apprenticeships should be much more widespread. For any teenager ambitious to earn £100,000 a year, the best bet is to become a plumber.
Bricklayers can and do earn more than solicitors. However the route of becoming an apprentice should apply to plenty to many “middle class” jobs as well.
— Dan Steel (@dansteel77) February 26, 2016
Earlier this year the Sutton Trust estimated that, on average, graduates now have a debt of £44,000. For some it may be worth it – but for many it is not.
The consideration is surely not just whether the three years of £9,000 annual fees has been of any value – but whether more worthwhile discoveries could have been made in the “real world” during that time.
Some will retort that university is not all about money. They argue the experience is about intellectual freedom – learning for its own sake, the chance to pursue thoughts wherever they may lead, a wonderful celebration of free speech where all ideas can be advanced and all notions can be challenged.
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) September 21, 2016
That was true once – and it still lingers on in a few outposts.
But the reality is that anyone entering college in such a spirit would be well advised to disabuse themselves of such an approach before being “called out”
The world of academia has become barren. It is patrolled by thought police guarding various “safe spaces”.
The pursuit of excellence has given way to competitive victimhood. Instead of open debate, those with the misfortune to be male or white or Christian or heterosexual are warned to “check their privilege” and denounced for supposed “micro aggressions” or “cultural appropriation.”
Don’t rely on the dons for salvation: they are likely to be at best craven, and at worst directing the Orwellian nightmare.
Those with an enquiring mind should steer clear of college.
Too many of those who manage to get the necessary grades go on to university as if they were on a conveyor built.
They should jump off and embrace the greater opportunities to make their own way. There is no need for university to be endured by the ambitious and free thinking.