Young People, the system is mugging you off

I am very angry about this thing and this piece of writing is probably going to be very Russell Brand but I will try not to be. Anyway, here’s the story.

Yesterday I attended my brother’s graduation. It was a fancier than average affair, because he graduated from Coventry University and so the ceremony was held in the New Cathedral, capitalised so because it is an important building central to Coventry’s geography, history and culture. It is a symbol of hope, triumph and blahblahblah, wikipedia it if you fancy knowing more, it is pretty interesting. (Fun fact: when my granddad emigrated to the UK from Barbados back in the 50s he did some of the woodwork on the rebuild, which is quite cool I think.)

Despite the grand (and symbolic!!!) surroundings nothing could prepare me for the sonorous boredom of a graduation ceremony; having never attended one before, I had no idea what to expect. I dropped out of my Journalism degree course at UAL in the wake of my mother’s death, burdened with an £18k debt and no qualification to show for it, and so my little brother is the first person in my immediate family to earn a degree. (Sidebar: I am exceptionally proud of him.)

The boredom could perhaps have been alleviated by a more celebratory spirit but the words from all the speakers (the university staff and legendary film maker Ken Loach, who received an honourary doctorate) were so unignorably bleak and ominous that it rather dampened the mood.

As is customary in our family, a “humorous” running commentary was kept up throughout. “I’d like to take this opportunity to say to you all…” began a dull, droning man in robes. “…thanks for all your money,” I finished for him and then me and my dad sniggered at how hilarious we are. But as the ceremony drew to a close and as I spent all yesterday evening and this morning stewing over it, I realised how utterly unfunny it all was, that as Ken Loach talked about the greed of the two previous generations and how many of the graduates assembled would struggle to find work and how sorry he was for the world that young people inherit, the university staff sat behind him and nodded as though they were not complicit in one of the very systems that rinses young people financially before they’ve even finished growing into their adult heights. In less than 24-hours my wry amusement over the solemn “sorry not sorry and a casual whaddayagonnado shrug” attitudes of the faculty members in attendance at my brother’s graduation has evolved into incandescent rage.

Here’s the thing. The average young adult has spent a minimum of FIFTEEN YEARS within the education system. Reception, years 1 through to 6, years 7 through to 11, a couple or three years at sixth form or college, and the whole way through, everyone – parents, teachers, politicians – tell you that the reason you do it is because you need to make the grade to get to university. Because without a university education, you’re going to end up working at McDonalds or worse because a university education is the only way to prove you’re a capable adult who can achieve in your chosen career.

So every year, just under half a million kids go to university. They stress and study and find part-time jobs to sustain their lifestyles and they study and they study and they are tested and under pressure and they studystudystudy. It costs them a fucking fortune, a debt they are saddled with for most of their lives. Then they graduate and “finally!” they think. 18 or 19 years of their lives have been invested in this degree, which, they have been repeatedly told, is the key to unlock door after door leading to gold-paved streets in a citadel of great academic achievement where ladders of success are leant against towers of opportunity, and finally everything is gonna start paying itself off… So they file into the room or hall or fancy cathedral in their gowns that have cost them the best part of £50 to wear for a whole hour (money-grab, money-grab, money-grab to the bitter end!) and then they sit down and their lecturers tell them “haha, funny thing – you’re probably not going to get an amazing job after all. Thanks for your time and more importantly all your money though.”

Young people of Britain, the system is mugging you off.

If a degree no longer puts those who spend and study for them streaks ahead of their competition, if a degree no longer certifies that the degree holder will almost certainly end up working in a job relevant to their chosen field almost immediately, why as a society are we telling our young people that a degree is what they should strive for?

The simple fact is that many jobs or careers do not require three years of expensive education and thus not all degrees are created equally, though they all cost the same. My friend studied law at university and averaged 40 hours of compulsory lecture time and actual honest to god teaching, not to mention all the additional personal study time required to pass his exams. My Journalism degree shook out to less than 20 hours spread over four days of the week. When we compared our timetables and I gawped at his crammed one as he furrowed his brow at my sparse one, I wondered what the fuck it was I was paying for.

With that in mind, why then are we not as a government and a society investing more in vocational education and helping young people to earn rather than pay as soon as possible?

According to a report today, 75% of students will not pay off the debt they accrue during their time at university (under the new system, an average of almost £45k per student). The government currently loans £10 billion to students every year to put them through their university courses, compared to a spend of £1.5 billion on apprenticeships.

Of course some career paths absolutely require those extra three or four years of learning you put in at university. Careers like medicine and psychology, law, engineering, advanced sciences, advanced mathematics, history, politics and so on. The learning of additional and significant knowledge, real academia, is what university is perfect for.

Many, many career paths (including for example, the one my brother’s degree will send him down) do not require academic knowledge and instead require skills and acumen that you are best placed to learn in a working environment as part of a productive team or network. The fact that we do not create as many vocational opportunities for young people as we do university places, the fact that we do not place a value upon vocational opportunities that is equal to the value we place upon higher learning and the fact that we do not reward young people for their aptitude and productivity as soon as possible (we charge them for it instead) absolutely boils my piss.

And what’s really, truly gross is the way young people are lied to about what their education is worth all the way through their formative years. It’s gross how we talk about being “green learners” or “yellow learners” and “right or left brain thinkers” and “type A or B personalities” but we teach and test all kids the exact same way anyway. It’s gross that the culture of a “right” to higher education leads to blinkered thinking about human rights versus what is right for individual humans.

(There was a boy in my year at school who I often think of when my mind ponders this kind of thing, because I remember him retaking his English GCSE four times because the pass was a requirement for his university course. Young people who struggle with learning have myriads of other talents that can be nurtured – why try to cram them into boxes they don’t fit into?)

Young people of Britain, the system is just mugging you the fuck off. It’s telling you there is only one real option, when it knows that option is no longer as valuable and viable as it once was. It is failing to provide you with more options. It is loading your personal save file on The Sims and starting up the game with minus 50k simoleans. Also there’s no cheat code. LOL. Also when you look in the newspaper the only job that comes up is Slacker career. Also 5 to 10 other Sims are after that job too. There are no more jobs available today. Enjoy your ramen.

I’ve written a lot of words now and I’m sorry, I really did end up Russell Brand-ing it, because I’m mad at how bullshit the whole situation is and maybe I’ve even blown it out of proportion, though if you were there yesterday, listening, I think you’d feel as bleak as I do. I just wanted to put the anger somewhere that wasn’t my brain, really. Thanks for reading if you did.




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