As the summer marches ever onwards and results season looms for thousands of students, there will be many nervous teenagers and families around the UK. No change there. However, in the years to come, parents might be worried for a different reason. I looked up the definition of "education" in the Oxford Dictionary earlier; apparently it's "the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university." *Sigh. Well, I guess soon the UK editions will have to add an extra nota bene along the lines of "Available to rich kids and trust fund types only; plebs need not apply." It's a sad state of affairs when education of the official type is only for the privileged - I think we all thought we'd moved past that stage.
The hike in university fees couldn't have come at a worse time for an already cash strapped public. It makes me angry that many of the next generation will be denied the opportunity of extending their studies (and the delight that is snakebite) but more that that it is the shortsightedness of a government who can't see that without the influx of bright, fresh talent the university system itself will falter. A quality university system needs its strong research and even stronger teaching practise to be challenged - not just by fellow academics, neither simply by monied 20 year olds but by a diverse body of students from a range of backgrounds.
It's expected that because of this soaring rise in fees student numbers could drop by as much as 20% in the next few years - so this plug for axed funding designed to save money looks like it'll cause a whole other financial mess for our universities. There is no doubt that the powers-that-be face a constant juggling act in the attempt to preserve our standard of living; with so many funding balls in the air - the NHS, education, transport, charities - it was inevitable that a balls-up would be made at some point. The cost of university has already been a contentious issue for a number of years; I can say that six years after completing my university degree I'm still paying it off, which is detrimental to my shoe collection, but to have had the opportunity to study in the first place is something I wouldn't change. That people would protest about the loss of this opportunity is understandable; that these protests would be hijacked by thugs is one of the sorriest chapters in our tale of free speech - and it is this violence, rather than the true grievance, which will be remembered.
But perhaps there is another side to this - maybe the looming inaccessibility of a university education is a good thing. Perhaps we need to focus on that other part of education, the part that says that what you need in your 80 odd years on this earth is not a piece of paper that says you can write essays and drink a pint of buckfast in 10 seconds (oh, hang on - was that just my university?), it's life experience - and the very definition of that is getting out and living. Yes, you will learn vital skills at university - but these are skills that can also be acquired in the big, bad, real world. For many, is university not an extension of the cosseting and coddling of the school experience? It's being a grown-up, but with the stabilisers still on. For that reason, I am linking you up to this video courtesy of STA Travel Australia; a little celebration that serves to remind us that much of what we learn is from the University of Life; and entry to that institution is free and open to all.
The bottom line is, whether you wish to get your undergraduate studies at university and then continue with a Masters of Life Studies, or just roll up your sleeves and get stuck into a PhD of Living right after school is a personal choice - one which shouldn't be decided by the number of zeros in Mum and Dad's bank account. As for the Buckfast... now where did I put my stopwatch?
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