Having just completed my degree at Brunel University I can’t help but wonder if the last three years could have been used more productively. I am now up to my eyeballs in student debt and have a degree, though in a rigorous well-respected discipline, that means little in the practical world of employment.
It doesn’t help that the choice of subject counts for less than the grade in the current job market. It’s a slap in the face when candidates with a first in a Mickey Mouse course are chosen over those with a 2:1 in a real subject. What’s more insulting is the sheer arrogance of people studying such dribble, who compare results despite the courses being leagues apart in terms of mental capability.
In the last decade there has been a rapid expansion in ‘Mickey Mouse courses’, easily identified by the words (often in succession)
‘media’ and ‘studies’. I firmly believe funding these courses is essentially throwing the tax payers’ money down the drain; many of these subjects are practical and are therefore better suited to learning through other mediums such as apprenticeships and work placements.
However, this problem stems from secondary schools and colleges. There is a myriad of unheard A level subjects available for students who haven’t even passed their basic Maths and English GCSEs. Is it appropriate to be pushing students who can’t read and write to a standard level on the road to university? Not everyone is academic; it’s a fact of life. Why then waste money paving academic pathways for non-academic students when their true potential could be better realized through alternative routes?
This situation has arisen because of the snobby attitude secondary schools have towards alternative higher education courses. In essence students are taught getting into university is the be all and end all. The amount of pressure to find placements is immense, with little advice being given on other options, leading to excessive demand for university education and oversubscription. The fundamental issue lies in the excess demand from non-academic students, as this is the cause of the increase in non academic courses. It also doesn’t help that the quality of GCSEs and A levels has deteriorated to the point that being able to spell your own name correctly counts for a pass but that matter is for another day.
So what is the effect of the overly-hyped importance of university education?
Ultimately, it has lowered the prestige of having a degree.
Nowadays virtually anyone can obtain a degree, and the mindset is merely to go to university for the sake of it. This has been highlighted by my own secondary school who encouraged clearing students to accept any offer they received, even though in many cases it was not the right course or university. It’s amusing; the school boasts a year on year increase in students being accepted into university, but fails to mention the quality and suitability of these placements is dramatically decreasing.
Basic economics shows that the consequences of excess demand and unsustainable excess supply leads to problems with funding, resulting in an unavoidable increase in tuition fees. This creates further problems as it acts as a deterrent to prospective low-income students and means courses not expected to make a profit are cut. The long run remedy is to better educate students on their options, make secondary education sufficiently taxing, and reallocate existing funds efficiently by axing poor quality institutions and courses, (first on the list: Media Studies at South Bank)
Many of you will think I am being unfair mickey mouse courses, but there is another dimension that has not yet been considered.
A rising number of people lacking the required dedication for university are being accepted, meaning the calibre of university students has, and will, continue to fall, exacerbating social problems in universities
Generally speaking, students who are at university to learn and develop their genuine interest of a subject are the ones you see studying non-stop in the library, whereas those at university purely for the sake of having a degree for their C.V are the ones out on drunken escapades. Unfortunately the second category is getting larger and widely accepted as the typical student. This has impacted the way universities promote themselves, with social life being joined top of the priority list of areas to highlight, alongside academic excellence.
From my own observations the students who fulfil the stereotype tend to be on Mickey Mouse courses. Why? Because they have nothing better do. Their courses severely lack substance, and combined with unchallenging examination methods gives little need or incentive for them to study, ultimately meaning the student focusses more on their social life.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that students of real subjects aren’t privy to this behaviour. My point is that they have less of a tendency towards it as the subjects they are on require more independent study, and even the students who are more inclined that way tend to have a work hard play hard mentality, i.e. studying comes first. Of course there are social factors to consider but my line of reasoning is this: real subjects give more of an incentive to study due to their difficult nature.
So what does this all mean for the value of my degree? Is it worthless? Should I mourn for the three years and £30,000+ spent? No, it still opens up the job market to me, but it does not give the subject I have studied the respect it deserves and has generally lost the honour it once had.