A Degree of Expectation

heslington hall
Heslington Hall

It may come as a little shock when I declare to you the penetrable and irrational statement that degrees are absolutely useless in their current form.

Take a second and ask yourself why you came to university. The colourful spectrum of answers would generally range from drinking and drugs, to the nightlife of the city (ha!), or perhaps the employment prospects. Let’s be honest, most definitely the hope of a decent pay packet at the end.

Actually, I don’t deny that the majority of us choose Higher Education with the best of intentions. I personally remember the keenness and amity to which I poured through books before arriving in York, thinking of how much more intelligent I would be once I did that every single day at university. I even left a military career because I wanted to become more intellectually aware of what was actually going on around me in the world.

However, being at university certainly doesn’t live up to the illustrious image that we so fondly hold. Even more ironically, we immediately justify any antipathy towards studying at university, with a wide range of excuses, which usually includes jobs, friends or that troublesome one night stand.

Through all my best intentions and educational virtuosity, I do however fondly remember leaving the military to pursue a degree with the plans of returning to a better paid position in the forces. Perhaps I didn’t always have the most idyllic of intentions with my education – instead I focused on maintaining my own “career plan”.

Let’s take a look at what a degree actually equates to in today’s society. The typical student arises out of bed around 11am, stumbles into the shower with that belligerent hangover, and consequentially formulates their best intentions for that “productive” day ahead (despite having already missed their 9am lecture or seminar from the morning, of course).

The student manages may make a number of their lectures and/or seminars and sits passively, but probably only contributes in seminars when required to, or to get that little ego trip when you think your view actually counts.

Maybe six whole weeks of doing this (with perhaps a few too many nights out) and it can quite quickly appear that you’re overworking, taking too much time out of societal commitments to read papers, all of which have very little impact on your educational enrichment.

Also, the work generally has absolutely no effect upon your final module grade – and considering you only really need to learn roughly a quarter of a module in most arts degrees anyway, everything can be dropped!

The point I am trying to make is it’s possible to scrape through an entire term without actually studying or reading anything, and by blagging seminar absences with some transient excuse. You can cram most information in a couple of days before your exam or essay deadline and still attain a 2:1. We kid ourselves that our contact hours matter when, in fact, the majority of a degree is completely self-taught.

The best bit is the irrational stigma that working hard brings you. On first arriving to university, you are immediately greeted with alcoholism, late nights and the constant line that “first year doesn’t count”.

I think we should challenge this idea of “the university experience” that young students feel they need to have in their lives. The global education system has developed into a fatal representation of human intelligence and “education” has become useless.

Universities have become much more than educational institutions. Top bosses are more intent on league tables, student numbers and tuition fees. What on earth does any of this have to do with receiving a good quality education?

Having said all of this, I accept that education is a social construct to enrich human beings and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

I don’t think education is an inalienable human right – like water, air and food.

Education should be free and available to all and, more importantly, equal. The global education system needs to be reformed to reflect that. In the UK, there needs to be a complete nationalising of the education system, with government controlling everything from buildings to the curriculum.

Yes, private tuition has been proven to spit out the best performing students but fundamentally, it’s not the type of school that can provide a level of education. Good teachers provide a good education – and when there’s money going, they’re always going to make a terrible decision.

Money corrupts all – it’s a belief I’ve always held. It’s something which definitely applies to education and something that impacts us all.

Call me a political optimist, but politicians should recognise the dangers of the current systems we have in place and act to change the global trend now.

2 thoughts on “A Degree of Expectation

  1. Interesting article, not sure I agree about the nationalisation of the education system but I agree with other parts of the piece. Also there is the small matter that in our current economic state, nationalisation of the entire education system would be impossible.

  2. The idea of more government control is inimical to the concept of the university as a place of unique research. Imposing a top-down curriculum ignores the individual expertise of different departments, particularly at the postgraduate level- I’m not sure I’d have bothered to come to York if it didn’t have leading experts in my particular field- and if you don’t let academics structure their own teaching, what’s the point of their research to an undergraduate student?

    More to the point, research and teaching is already tightly controlled by the way in which research funding is structured- e.g. through REF.

    Or, to put it in simpler terms, do you really want Gove (or subsequent Education Ministers) politicising the terms of your degree, in the same way that he’s fiddling with the curriculum on a yearly basis? At least in the current system you’re able to transfer to a different course or university if it turns out not to match your interests or learning style.

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