Today, Sixth Form students have received their A Level results. It's a bright day, capricious nature of British weather notwithstanding! A day of opposing hope, joy and despair, where a future of unbridled success awaits, or ever descending slides into misery and drudgery.
I cast my mind back nine years to when I received my A Level results (A/B, the highest in my class... for all the good it's done me!), I was overjoyed at my grades. I had upped my game in the last term, reshaping my average prospects into top ones. All my work had paid off.
Fast forward nearly a decade however, and I, along with the numerous other stake posts of my socio-economic standing, have received the lashes of blame of a market that crashed and brushed. All economies share a fate with the Hindenburg! Now there are "green shoots" and half a decade of my life has been flushed down the loo, myself and many of my contemporaries, the initial tremors of an earthquake of those eager to cash in on the market of "learning," are now facing navigating a wilderness of that reserved for the lost generation. Now I have been spat out far from the academic production line, I can't help but wonder: "was it worth it?"
Education has become an economy in itself. Rather than academic fulfillment, it has now turned to a conveyor belt pandering to conformity. The year of my graduation from Uni, my tuition fees for that year stood at £1,200. Current Freshers face the daunting Eiger face of £9,000 a year, an amount threatening to rise higher still. Holding many students to ransom (students who have to study until 18 now, thus preconditioned to sacrifice themselves at Higher Education's altar, Pavlovian horde/pack slobbering for a piece of societal carcass).
What is overlooked in the mad rush for a place and the heady, nerve wracking transition from one life to another, is the future. Whether we like it or not, humanity exists in a structured society (I am not a fan of this hierarchy myself) and work is carried out at many of these levels that require a society to function. As horrible as it may seem, not everyone can be a lawyer, an architect or a brain surgeon. In the words of Brian to Meg in Family Guy: "if everyone reached for the stars then there'd be no one left on earth, right?" Do you really want to be that road sweeper with a Master's Degree in Clinical Psychology?
I am not decrying Higher Education, I never would do that. It can be more about edification than education, a life experience turning an adolescent into an adult. Learning one more than can be imparted in the lecture hall: self reliance, enhanced social interaction and life skills. There is also the freedom, for 3 years at least, from decades of life at the daily grind. Most people do need part time employment to supplement their learning, but there is still a great time to be had... perhaps at the expense of financial security. But unfortunately, increasingly at the expense of a determined destiny?
I have always maintained that we are forced to choose a route to career fate too early in life. To quote Baz Luhrmann's "Everybody's Free To Wear Sunscreen."
"Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life.
The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives.
Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't."
As more people are opting for Uni's liberating glare, they are blinded to the notion that a greater influx of undergrads mean a bottleneck at the far side. The Graduate job market is worse than gridlock on the M25, the last Friday before Christmas... in Hell! The remaining succor for the masses is to become that sucker, who ends up in a blue collar job and 40K in debt before the close of their first quarter of a century.
University is a wonderful place, for those predisposed to academia. Others should seek another way to slake the wants of destiny. A paradigm shift needs to occur, where we look at more elegant ways to employ people, make wages and worker's rights fairer and to shift the onus away from a Degree (where they are not necessarily needed). That paradigm shift needs to happen before shifting transforms into a boulder and society the Sisyphus has to roll it upwards.
However, a more sinister perspective dwells behind this, if one takes a Marxist stance. According to The Communist Manifesto, the bourgeois require a very large proletariat base, with which to draw cheap labour from and perpetuate the eternal proliferation of their own wealth. On post recession terra firma, are Graduates' Graduation caps rapidly becoming the beggar's cap to doff in the face of the 1% masters? Education is a reward in itself, but autodidact can be an easier way to dictate your destiny rather than a tenure in the professorship of turbulent future.
© Brad James, 2014.