Alex Phillips: It is absurd to render yourself grossly indebted for a three year bender and a photo with a fake scroll

Alex Phillips: It is absurd to render yourself grossly indebted for a three year bender and a photo with a fake scroll
alex mono 10 aug
Alex Phillips

By Alex Phillips


Published: 10/08/2021

- 16:16

Updated: 10/08/2021

- 18:03

Once upon a time universities were for bibliophiles and boffins - but then came the Nineties

University, the best years of your life, they say.

I felt almost bereaved when funth came to an end - the month of fun between exams and results that feels like an endless stretch of beer gardens and house parties. I knew I would never have another three years quite like it. I had lived, breathed and loved every second of my course, campus and college life.


But it really isn’t like that for everybody. Plenty of undergrads find themselves lost, isolated, overwhelmed and lonely. Others are underwhelmed, with long languid lager and liquor filled terms learning how to become a louche libertine instead of lapping up lessons in lecture halls.

Once upon a time universities were for bibliophiles and boffins. People priming for a profession, be it law or medicine, or dedicated dorks delving deep into a discipline, buried among dusty tomes of various ologies. Grants were available, study was rigorous, prestige the principal currency. Polytechnics gobbled up the practical, those who were ready to pursue a vocation with vigour. They churned out mechanics, designers, engineers, straight into the arms of industry, honed and hewn into paragons of production. Apprenticeships burnished the trades, furnishing them with fresh hands to plumb, wire and build, earning and learning simultaneously.

But then came the Nineties and a sleight of hand to paper over the crumbling edifice of manufacturing, as imported labour compressed wages and saturated the jobs market, school leavers had nowhere to go. And so education was homogenised and a degree attached to everything, driving NEETs into new institutions mushrooming up in urban batches, drowning unemployment statistics under Mickey Mouse degrees. Everything from circus studies to surfing, football to film, saw debts rack up for certificates barely worth the paper they were printed on. The degree is devalued, they decried.

Then fees began to soar. From one grand to three to six to nine. Debt racked up. Loans went unpaid. Desperate scholars took to moonlighting to subsidise study, as study itself became an understudy.

Today, the average student debt stretches to tens of thousands, an exorbitant debt, particularly for a Desmond. Ten billion quid of student loans written off last year, with the taxpayer picking up the tab, a cumulative millennium of lecture time translated to nothing.

And yet as students collect their results today, record numbers of A grades dished out to assuage pupils denied standard assessment, their soft psyches stroked by sympathetic Sirs, Universities will struggle to accommodate them all. But is it really worth it for some academic bling and a three year bar crawl?

Campuses, once hotbeds of Hegelian dialect, have become detention centres of distance learning and dystopian didactics. Free speech under assault as activists annihilate centuries old curricular, pedagogues pilloried for permitting a plethora of thought. Student bodies and Unions more concerned with placards and puerile politics than fostering fertile faculties for graduands.

Our Higher Education is at an all time low. While our little island nation is second in the world only to America for boasting world leading seats of learning, internationally esteemed institutions pioneering civilisation-advancing innovations, the deep fissures are clear for all to see. Nonsensical caps on medics and dentists while we import doctors from abroad. Astronomical fees for average academia hiding in plain sight among the red bricks and Russell groups.

Yet cast an eye over the cast of 21st century innovators, entrepreneurs and industrialists and it’s hard to find a graduate among them. From Lord Sugar to Sirs Dyson and Branson, even Zuckerberg and Gates, a mortar board is not necessarily a springboard to the board of directors.

Yet if you find yourself yearning for learning, with a vested interest in staying within the bounds of intellectual endeavour, are scintillated by science, enthralled by anthropology, an ardent philosophile or are pertinacious in the pursuit of a particular profession, live in labs, be buried in books and profit from preeminent professors.

But if you’re apathetic, agnostic or allergic to academia, it is absurd to render yourself grossly indebted for a three year bender and a photo with a fake scroll.

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