My parents implored me to go to uni. Going to university was rare for their generation. Only the smartest attended. The smartest then realised the perks that came with possessing a qualification that was rare in the market place. That’s Foundation Economics. If something’s rare and in demand, its value rises. University degrees were rare, so they were valuable.
Blair became prime minister during my last year at primary school. Education, education, education and all that. He stated his ambition that 50% of the country’s population should attend university. Economics Foundations also states that a glut of a commodity drives down value. The UK went to university and reduced the value of a degree. Graduates were ten a penny all of a sudden.
Education became obsessed with sending students to university. I still remember my college telling me the student debt I’d accrue didn’t matter. It was Monopoly money that didn’t exist. It isn’t and it does. Their motivation was to send us to university regardless of what consequences that had on our future.
This is wrong. University is a tool, not an end result. It is the paintbrush to Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. As a tool, it should be selected like one. If the job at hand requires a screw driver, you wouldn’t select a hammer. If university solves the problem at hand, then it should be selected as the tool of choice. If it doesn’t, then something else is more appropriate.
Whacking screws with hammers makes a mess. Sending students to university who require a different tool does likewise. For others, university may be the power drill required to drill a hole. Better decisions must be made to do the best by our young people.
Quoting university admissions percentages as a badge of honour is naïve and, at worst, disingenuous. The figure will no doubt contain people who’d be better served applying their drill-like tendencies to problems that require a drill. Young people should be coaxed towards the destination that suits them best, not the one that looks best on a banner outside school. We can do much better than that.
As educators, we are obliged to help our charges select the path that serves their needs best. University may well be that path. We love university and what it stands for. However, we can’t abide a blind procession down a path that leads to nowhere. We can help our young people find better routes, if the uni path isn’t for them.
A better statistic is “100% of our students found a path that suited them”.