Universities take in more and more wide-eyed young people every year, and recent figures state more than two and a half million students enrolled in 2010-2011. Most are pushed by their professional parents who made their careers during one of the most prosperous times in the history of the Western world. The old route of good school, good university leading to a good job has been shattered and may not be repaired anytime soon. Yet more and more students continue to put themselves into debt, take out loans, and put their lives in the hands of the university of their choice.
I entered university as a mature student who already had real life work experience and knew how to pay bills, cook, clean and manage budgets. I went to university to access different career choices once I had a piece of paper in hand. I made a conscious decision, understood the risks involved and made sure I researched scholarships to support my time there. I had an amazing time and would not have had the experiences to date had I decided not to go. I only mention that to be open about where I am coming from.
Students finish their A-levels studying around the clock but soon realize that the contact time at many universities is dire. That amazing lecturer who convinced you to sign up for that course is either on sabbatical for a year or is only really interested in securing more research funding. You look around at your class mates, who are mostly international students paying top dollar, but who barely have a good grasp on English so do not contribute to your learning during seminars. The books in the library have been taken out already and it is impossible to get a study space during exam periods.
After the whole ordeal, you manage to graduate with a good upper class degree only to find out that so has every other Tom, Dick, and Harry — even those who are still unable to speak proper English. The real kick in the teeth comes when you try to enter the professional workforce and realize that you either have to take further study, which means spending more money, or find out that you are over qualified for many non-professional jobs. While you have been filling your brain with social science, natural science, formal science, applied science, or humanities, you did not gain useful practical application to enable you to make money and support yourself. It seems really bizarre that a couple of years after graduation, many young people are still being supported by their parents.
All is not lost though. For the truly academic people there are a number of free online universities offering reading lists, essay questions and course outlines for you to study in your own time. There are many public institutes offering free evening lectures which offer serious debate with intelligent members of the public. Not to mention that if you actually know how to make money, you will always be able to support yourself rather than relying on an employer to not make your job redundant with the current economic slowdown. Finally, just to mention that I graduated in 2009 and have never been asked to see my university degree certificate which sits in a frame as a mantel piece.