Editorial for The Student, 20 September

With Eloise Kohler.

The occupation of George Square Lecture Theatre this week may not have achieved anything tangible but it did serve to make us think about what they were fighting for. It is clear that degrees are going to become exorbitantly expensive, but interestingly – if sadly – it seems that the wider value of a degree is set to decrease. Of course, this is difficult to quantify, but we’ve tried to think about it in terms of financial prospects, vital life experience, and educational benefits. In the past, securing a BA or a BSc was a recipe for a better future. The relative rarity of degrees made them vastly more valuable to potential employers. This has, unsurprisingly, provided a model mindset for our parents’ generation. For the two of us, and many others, there was never really any question of not entering some form of higher education. Consequently, the number of graduates has dramatically increased and we now find ourselves educated but panicked, with relentless headlines proclaiming alarming statistics such as “70 graduates for every job” and “graduate unemployment hits 15 year high.” The financial benefits of a degree are not looking as obvious as they once did.

Still, we thought, a degree must offer you better job prospects in the long run. We evaluated our theory using the BBC’s latest innovation – a program designed to check all possible occupations to work out how long it will take you to pay off your student loan. We tested the application with the proposed £36,000 fees on top of a yearly maintenance loan and even after exhausting the assortment of careers on offer, no profession allowed you to pay back your loan within the given 30 years. Knowledge is power and all that, but education for education’s sake doesn’t seem quite so appealing when you’re going to spend most of your working life attempting to pay for it.

The life experience you gain at university is also a fundamental motive for attaining a degree. University is a unique opportunity to learn an abundance of new skills, while mixing with people of all different backgrounds and hearing life stories from around the world. Learning to be independent is also critically important, which in the confines of university can be both trying and rewarding. One of us remembers the first time she cooked a non-microwavable meal as a particular accomplishment, while the other was amazed to discover she was something of a dab hand at DIY.

Finally, and by no means least important, is the access to education provided by a degree. Going to university gives you the opportunity to study a subject you love (or at least don’t hate) in more depth and with greater relevance. Although you will undoubtedly spend much of your degree desperately trying to avoid doing any work, this is an opportunity that really needs to be embraced whole-heartedly. We are the last year of students (lucky Scots not included) to have access to higher education at reasonable prices. We can’t stress enough how important it is to recognise this.

Here at The Student, we firmly believe that education is a right, not a privilege. We can only hope that future governments also come to share this view before irreparable damage is done to our educational systems and institutions, which would have frightening implications for society as a whole. The idea of a degree simply serving as a status symbol is horrific. In the meantime, do your reading, go to your classes, talk to new people, go out dancing four times a week, and learn to put a shelf up – in other words, make the most of it while it’s still worth something.

Your editors,
Anna & Eloise.

Originally published in The Student, 20 September 2011

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