Thursday, 25 November 2010

Young Voters' Question Time

I've just watched last night’s Young Voters' Question Time, complete with funky lettering to ensure the youth can relate.

It should have been called Undergraduates' Question Time as the audience were made up almost entirely of students and the raising of tuition fees was the only subject up for discussion.

I'm not a student, I'm not a graduate. That is not to say I am never going to go to university; when I was studying for my A-levels I didn't know what I wanted to do and I wasn't prepared to pay the new tuition fees to do a course just because I couldn't think of anything else to do so decided to work for a bit, get some life experience and some money whilst I came to a decision. I am only just coming to a decision.

There are many reasons I disagree with the government's decision to raise tuition fees but the thing that gets me the most is an issue that isn't really addressed, probably because it doesn't occur to, and isn't felt by, most people who are engaged in the current argument.

It's all well and good that people are patting themselves on the back that more people are going to university now than ten years ago. It may also be true that more people from working class backgrounds are going to university since the Labour government brought in tuition and top up fees BUT it is also true that unemployment is a huge problem and is on the rise. Where it used to be the case that having a degree pretty much ensured you'd have a job once you'd finished university, people now have to continue studying, going on to do MAs or PhDs in order to get an upper hand over others. So many people now have university educations that it no longer means anything.

If graduates can't get jobs, what about those who chose not to go to university? I have applied for a few jobs over the past few months. One, admittedly, was very much out of my reach and I was aware of that. The others, however, I was capable of, I had all or most of the desired qualities and experience they asked for except one main thing, they 'desired' someone who was educated to degree level, not any particular degree, just a degree. There was nothing about these jobs that meant that you had to have gone to university to be able to do them, all you'd need was a little training or past experience in similar jobs. Why then, do they say someone educated to degree level is 'desirable'? I have heard the argument that a good degree, in any subject, shows that you have dedication and are hard working; you have committed yourself to at least three years of attending lectures, completing assignments and study. That's all fair enough, but why does that make someone preferable over a person who has all the relevant work experience and good references from past employers? This is starting to sound a little too much like my own personal frustration dressed up in current issues but my point is; if graduates are having trouble getting jobs, what about those people who chose not to and/or couldn't go to university?

I realise that not getting interviews for these jobs wasn't solely due to a lack of a university education, there are so many people competing for jobs now, it's difficult to stand out above others but I'll be willing to bet that the people who got those jobs and the majority of people who were interviewed for those jobs were graduates. I’ll also be willing to bet that nothing they learnt whilst studying for their degree better equipped them to do that job. I recently applied for a 5 month long voluntary position traineeship and even they said that someone educated to degree level was 'desirable'. Really? An unpaid traineeship? 5 months work that takes up so much time it would be near impossible to work a paid job alongside it? This government is really expecting people to owe 3000, 6000, possibly 9000 pounds a year, on top of the cost of living whilst studying, for the privilege of leaving university and having to work for free if at all? Oh, but in that case you don't have to pay back the money the government have lent you for that pointless degree and wasted years that have got you nowhere. You're right, that makes it all better.

The only paid jobs I have had for the four years since finishing my A-levels have been as a teaching assistant in primary schools. They're not well paid jobs, I haven't been able to move out from my parents place (I've been lucky enough that they have been able and willing to keep me and support me) without sacrificing having money to live in a decent and accessible part of London as well as money to spend on enjoying myself. With the cuts to education, these jobs are going to become less and less easy to get hold of. People are less likely to leave their jobs and even when they do, schools are going to have less and less money to replace them. It's also not a job I want to stay in for the rest of my life, it's a job I could do whilst deciding what I actually wanted to do. While taking my time to decide, we've gone into a recession, unemployment has risen and the price of going to university has potentially tripled. Joy. Oh, and the Tories are back in power. What a wonderful time to be alive!

We need to take a look at our attitude to university education. I’m by no means suggesting a return to the elitist way in which they used to function but degrees are no longer as meaningful as they were and everyone suffers as a result. Proposing students should be charged more for increasingly useless qualifications is an insult. Everyday, something new in the world of politics pokes its head up and depresses or enrages me even further.

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