High fees have made us into consumers, and worse human beings

University isn’t just a springboard to a well-paid career

With higher education costing what it does, students have begun to view a degree as a commodity. University is a gateway to better jobs and higher salaries. Lecturers have complained that students perceive them merely as service providers – reluctant to engage in any academic behaviour not part of the assessment.

The change is not just in the attitudes in students- in a White Paper published earlier this week, the Government proposed reforms aimed to maximise graduate job prospects, allowing companies such as Google or Apple to award their own degrees, emphasising education as a tool for a better job rather than for its own sake.

The shift to more vocational Universities has been inevitable – the number of students heading to U.K. universities has gradually risen over the last 60 years. In the past 15 years alone, the student population has risen from just under 2 million in 2000 to 2.2 million students in the 2014/5 academic year. Rather than just the elite few, in 2013 30 per cent of 18-year-olds were accepted into university.

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Although degrees have become more vocational, we shouldn’t dismiss the value of the the university experience itself- now more than ever, it’s important to appreciate the qualities that had made higher education so attractive for parents and grandparents.

For a start, university helps to broaden minds- although quite a cliche, it’s nonetheless true. Immersed in a learning environment with people from all walks of life and every type of opinion or idea stops students from stifling intellectually, making them able to confront, challenge or even agree with the unfamiliar or unorthodox.

Instead of resting on assumptions and prejudice, what might seem uncomfortable actually allows students to formulate their own ideas and become intellectually more independent.

In 2005, notorious porn-star Ron Jeremy imparted life lessons to a student audience at the Oxford Union. Whilst it’s unclear how many Oxford students have entered pornography following graduation, its value wasn’t in giving career tips but in meeting and listening to someone from a very different lifestyle.

It’s not just what you learn, but what you do that also makes university valuable.  The lifestyle of most students is exactly what you would expect from young people with little commitment and loads of independence- loads of drinking, smoking and experimenting.

Aside from countless hangovers/comedowns, lovers’ tiffs and the odd hospital trip, students learn life lessons hardly appropriate in the workplace but invaluable for the human being. Dealing with the mistakes you made, whether it’s one too many beers or cheating on a partner are useful- having experience in real-life situations that aren’t assessed makes you a better human being in the all-important work place and life in general.

Although university will ultimately provide the necessary qualifications for your chosen career path, part of the value in university comes from the lessons and experiences that are picked up along the way.

Although they might not always be proud moments, they enable a graduate to articulate themselves in ways they otherwise wouldn’t have ben able to do as well as making them generally well-rounded individuals. In short, there’s much more to university than as glorified training-centre.