(Words I hobbled together for an opinion article for CryWolf, the University of Wolverhampton’s student newspaper/blog. Click here for original post)
It is a common occurrence for everyone to be asked by ill-seen acquaintances and family, as well as strangers, a question along the lines of “What are you up to now then?” It’s an innocent enough question, yet it is from this innocuous enquiry that a gripe I have is, on a day-to-day level, most regularly experienced. I, of course, usually begin answering the question by stating that I’ve continued on at university to study for an MA in Popular Culture. This is then often, as expected, followed up with the secondary question of “What sort of job can you get with that?” On the surface this seems like a fair enough question, yet it’s not. University should not be means to employment as an absolute, but should in fact be viewed as an ends unto itself, yet politicians and much of the media have turned going to university into a human resource production factory rather than being the house of enlightenment it once was.
This change from seeing higher education as being good in its own right, to needing to have an economic value, could arguably said to have begun under the Thatcher years, whereby nothing was free from economic rationalisation. I find it troublesome. Just because something makes little or no money does not mean it doesn’t have value in other ways. Comedian and Writer Stewart Lee recalls a piece of news in the 80’s in which Margaret Thatcher toured a university and asked one of the students what they were studying, the student replied “Ancient Norse Literature”, to which Thatcher commented “What a luxury”. Again, as with my introduction, this doesn’t seem like much, but what it demonstrates is how ingrained in her thinking economic rationalism was and this has now sunk into all of us. There is clearly a limited direct financial future from studying Ancient Norse Literature, but as a society we need to keep information such as that alive because, as Stewart Lee says, “it’s a cliché to say, but you understand the modern world through it’s echoes in the past”.
More recently we can see this economic rationalisation of university via both the introduction, and the raising of, student fees. University courses are now products, the Prospectus, rather than being an index of knowledge that can be attained via study, is now a brochure selling us a future dream career. This has severely altered the student/teacher relationship to that of customer/provider. Because students are paying customers, the way in which university operates has been corroded, mainly on a teaching level. Rather than doing heavy amounts of research, students expect to be simply given the information, after all, it has been paid for; when you pay for milk you expect to have it in a bottle and not simply to have access to a cow. But, this is of course where thinking with an economic mindset falls down. University should be about genuine ‘self-betterment’ or self-improvement; this cannot simply be paid for like a conventional product, but requires hard work. I am not saying that students are lazy now, however, university education is much more signposted as a result of economic rationalisation than it would have been for students gone by and this is not how it should be.
It should be said that getting a job at the end of university is what many people want once they have finished studying (this can’t be entirely denied), but this should not influence too harshly ones choice in course; going to university and getting a job should be thought about separately. If any new potential students are reading this I would strongly recommend to them that they do not think in terms of future income when choosing a course for university (although with higher fees this is of course harder to do) but to select something which truly interests them. Just because a course doesn’t have a direct route to employment does not mean it is useless and unimportant.
- Robert Wright