Sunday, September 30, 2007

University Challenge

Far more 18 year olds go to University nowadays than in the past. The Government has decided (probably correctly) that taxpayers don't want to foot the bill for this huge increase in student numbers. There are two results of this policy:

1) Many students leave with huge debts which they will be paying off into their 30s.

2) There are lots of students who are as thick as a whale omelette.

Now you could argue that the economy needs more graduates. I'm happy with that if you mean Engineers, Chemists or Computer Scientists. But do we really need graduates with Mickey Mouse degrees in Media, Footballers Wifery and Celebrity Studies; or should we stop conning them into wasting three years amassing huge debts, before discovering that they can only get a job in a call centre?


oldandrew said...

"There are lots of students who are as thick as a whale omelette."

I guess I wasn't the only one watching Blackadder on UKGold tonight.

cramerj said...

And who mislead these thick students into believing that they had the ability needed.
Teachers - thats what

Tomrat247 said...

Teachers have nothing to do with students going to university - few, if any, unless they see real talent, will ever tell a child to go to university as most have experienced crushing debt only to be rewarded with the great unwashed' little darlings who can barely hold a sentence together. In truth it is the parents and the state who encourage this behaviour but a fair proportion of the blame should go to the students themselves, who for the first few months of term will be made richer than they've ever been before and then, having spent it all on designer clothes, beer, sky, more beer, internet connections and even more beer suddenly disappear- or worse- cry to the bank of mum and dad to pay the way their loan and part time job should've paid.

I'm from a northern town in which I went to university and I see the masses of students coming in from their tiring day of 1 hour-long lecture in jazz studies followed by shopping then driving to their hilton-like flat in their nice new cars and I have to say it is shocking their attitude.

What we need is to reform the student loan system; not bodily (you pay for what you get so we should pay for it ourselves) but in the way it is paid out- monthly payments to cover expenses and linkage to studies and, dare I say it, performance?

Sandy said...

I think it should be compulsory for all would-be students to undergo a foundation year - at a 'university' in Afghanistan.

Then they might come back with different ideas!

SandyM - 2:1 (honours) in Basket Weaving and Applied Flower-Arranging, Trumpton Polytechnic.

Keogh said...

'Few teachers unless they see real talent will ever tell a child to go to University' is rubbish for two reasons:

1)Schools encourage every pupil who can spell their own name to apply for University because they publish the figures showing the number of pupils going onto University.

2) Given the standards required to get into teaching, many teachers would not have made it to University themselves in the past. Their idea of 'genuine talent' as shown by the G&T scheme running at our school is pitifully low.

alanorei said...

I can identify with much of what Mr Chalk says on this topic.

The management culture at universities, especially new universities, is all about student revenue* (as I have probably remarked on this blog before).

*And control-freakery but that's a separate issue.

With few exceptions (like the current VC of the new university where I was a lecturer for 26 years), university managers (both senior and middle) see your son or daughter as merely a student FTE, full-time equivalent, or PTE, part-time equivalent.

Our institution, which I do not believe is exceptional, always had an obsession with annual undergraduate recruitment targets. The focus on fee-paying student recruits intensified after the old polytechnics became universities because the new HE institutions departed from LEA control and effectively became a law unto themselves, w.r.t. finances.

The result was a massive hike in managers' perks and a vastly inflated bureaucracy - at our university, academics and technician support are less than 50% of the total staff complement, the management and admin. cohort constituting the other 50+%.

We used to have one full-time manager for every 6-7 academic staff and 3 admin. staff for every 4 academic staff.

The standard of management and admin. was/is repeatedly naf, though that is perhaps beside the point. The point is that much of this particular cohort is surplus to requirements.

One reason you know that the focus is overwhelmingly on getting in dosh (student FTEs and PTEs) is that our university - no exception, as indicated - was never particularly interested in first destination returns, apart from the occasional graduate story that was good for the glossy brochures (actress Wendy Craig was one of our honourary graduates, I believe).

In other words, once the students had graduated, they were 'out of sight, out of mind' for the institutional movers and shakers. Attention was invariably focussed on the next set of fee-payers - which is why such emphasis is placed on 'Mickey Mouse' courses, as Mr C. rightly describes them.

Anything to pull in the punters.

That said, recruitment is at long last picking up healthily in the 'hard maths, hard science' course I helped teach. Too early to say whether or not this trend will continue, though I hope it does.

Anonymous said...

I am even more bothered by the new measures. - The fact that the higher universities can charge now more than the rubbish ones. That means that a good student from a poorer background wil have to choose university by what s/he can afford rather than their ability.
It's a step backwards.

Alfred of Wessex said...

1978-80 9 'O' levels, 7 grade A (Chemistry, Physics, Maths, Additional Maths, Latin, French, English), 2 grade B (German, Art).

1980 3 'A' levels (Mathematics - A, Physics - A, Chemistry - B).

1980-84 B.Eng. in Chemical Engineering (of equal standing to M.Eng. awarded from 1997).

1993-94 Dip.Lib.

And what did I end up doing by the time I was 38? Stuffing envelopes for the ******* Department for Transport!!!

For the vast majority of people, myself included, university was/is a complete waste of time, and only leads to bitterness in later life at being had for such a fool to think you would make it in a world of liars, charlatans, blaggers and thieves.

Teacher - tell them to get a trade. They will be happier, wealthier and better adjusted all round.

dill the dog said...

I'm not convinced that the graddies with "useful" degrees are really worth the effort any more - I've interviewed too many Computer Science graddies whose knowledge of programming was little more than knowing how to print "hello world" using a handful of popular languages - scratch beneath the surface and all that's left is someone who knows how to plagiarize the internet...

Anonymous said...

So, media studies graduates will only be able to get jobs in call centres will they?

So whose going to flip the burgers then?

Oh I know!

The sociology grad's

Tomrat247 said...


What you say is true; that schools see the dollar value of getting their pupils into further education, irrespective of suitability, intelligence or attitude (which is most important). Teachers on the other hand (at least those who aren't too jaded and cynical from years of state micromanagement) do in general have altruistic motives and wont suggest something downright unsuitable to the great unwashed if it wont help them.

It is interesting that you point out the lack of honesty in most schools though in their pressure to get kids applying - would you be in favour of a voucher system to encourage competition in the education system? A system which has proved entirely viable in Sweden for example?

Anonymous said...

"So whose going to flip the burgers then?"
I guess you are, with your fancy spelling skills!

Anonymous said...

Media degrees aren't all as soft or pointless as The Daily Mail / Ruth Lee would have us believe. I am a graduate of a very well-regarded and well-conceived / delivered course. I graduated in the early 1980s, and have since followed a worthwhile and lucrative career in my chosen field.

Moreover, the ideas, debates and technical practices, I engaged with as an undergraduate, produced in me a commitment to a continuous programme of self-education, and a striving for excellence and understanding. A day does not pass without my drawing on the learning experiences of my first degree.

The very word "Media" indicates a plurality of mediums which form our networks of communications. Everything we have, as societies, has, at its core, fundamental or augmented processes of communication. We need information, and we need people who know how to gather, process and distribute it. Good Media education does have a bona-fide role, and should receive our support.

No academic field is immune to incompetency in its programming and delivery. I could point to a very well-known History M.A. that was so ill-conceived and implemented, there were weekly crisis meetings between The Dean of Faculty and the student cohort, spanning two-years, until most of us walked away in disgust, having wasted money and time.

Anonymous said...

Re the last anon's comments about media studies, hmmm. I work in the media, in a fairly high level hire and fire sort of position.
We rarely get decent Media Studies grads (most of the people we take on these days seem to have switched to the media from law).
That's not to say it can't work - you seem to be an exception, and well done.
But for most undergraduates it's a total waste of time. There aren't the jobs in 'the media' to support more than a fraction of the graduates, for starters.
There's a wider question, of course, which is whether it's good for the country to be ploughing resources into media studies courses when we have a growing lack of physicists, chemists and research science is all moving abroad.

alanorei said...

Alfred of Wessex certainly had an unhappy experience with his Chem Eng degree.

One aspect of our course which benefitted many of our graduates when it came to job hunting was a year's placement in industry, usually undertaken between the 2nd and Final academic years of the course. It provided invaluable work experience.

I analysed our first destination returns during the late 1990s. Typically, 55% of graduates were employed in the chemical process industries, 25% had gone on to do higher degrees, including PhDs at more prestigious universities, 10% who were mideast sponsored students had returned as graduate engineers to their parent companies (they are still enrolling, so we must have done something right) and the remainder were unknown.

Anecdotal evidence is always variable but one of our female graduates who came in via the HND route, requiring one A Level in one of the basic sciences, secured employment at BNFL, Sellafield on graduation and was then seconded to Westinghouse in the US.

Two of our lads who graduated at about the same time (late 1990s) went on to become plant managers for the two Terephthalic Acid plants on a local industrial site. One of our 1st Class Honours 2006 graduates (from the last cohort I was involved with) was hired by a local leading-edge consultant Chem Eng design company, working on environmental projects* (making sure the industry stays 'clean and green.')

*"Environmentalists measure and moan, engineers do something about it" - an environmental colleague of ours at Cranfield University.

It's easy to 'cherry pick' but I think that, on the whole, our graduates were successful in their chosen vocation.

Some of us banged away for years to get a three-way liaison going between industry, 6th Form/Year 12-13 staff and ourselves for mutual guidance and benefit.

It was the sort of strategy that would have suited St John's's pupils but probably not those from St Jude's.

Unfortunately, it never got off the ground because it would have to have been management-led and the level of expertise/commitment required was above and beyond what was available at the time in our institution and probably still is.

Though I still believe that colleagues in industry and such 6th Form/Year 12-13 staff contacts as we had would have been up for it, time and opportunity permitting.

However, for any St John's-style students who are contemplating a career in the process/utilities industries (as distinct from manufacturing, which has taken a savage battering in recent decades, e.g. Rover Longbridge), even if 100% certainty is not possible, sound prospects do exist, nevertheless.

poons said...

My degree (Information Technology with Software Engineering) taught me one very important thing. I hate programming.

Anonymous said...

Have always preferred " Thick as a yard of lard " myself.

Alien Anthropologist said...

The real problem is that degrees have become a colossal scam, a welfare program for university staff combined with a means of reducing youth unemployment figures. Best of all, from the government's standpoint, the kids actually _pay_ to be taken out of the unemployment figures!

So many people are being pushed into degree courses that jobs which years ago would have been accessible to anyone with some talent and brains now require a degree simply because it makes life easy for 'Human Resources' staff (itself another colossal scam, of course). They'll never use most of what they study, but without that expensive piece of paper they can't even get an interview.

Yet those who do have degrees are often useless; now that kids have to pay for courses themselves, which university is brave enough to fail them? Others have mentioned meeting programmers with IT degrees who know little to nothing about the subject, and that's been my experience too... meanwhile, some of the best programmers I've worked with and/or hired had no degree at all. They were lucky that they started out years ago when degrees weren't required for even low-level jobs.

It's well past time we exposed university for the scam it is, and left degrees to the small fraction of people who really need them. But that won't happen so long as the government benefits from sending more and more kids there.

Finally, as for the 'need' for science and engineering graduates, I'll believe that exists when those graduates can earn more on leaving university than they would get in a call center, as an estate agent, or as a manager at McDonalds'. I looked at some ads for science graduates a few months back, and in many cases the starting salaries were little higher than my starting salary in IT as a Physics graduate was... over fifteen years ago!

Science and engineering are seriously undervalued in the UK, and pumping out more graduates won't change that. Britain's entire culture glamorises people like lawyers, stockbrokers and doctors while actively denigrating engineers and scientists; it's no wonder so many smart kids choose to study Law and Medicine instead, or go to work shoveling money in the City after graduating in science or maths.

M C Ward said...

I studied Italian at University (I've no one to blame but myself) - fine if you want to be an Italian, but relatively useless if you want a career. Over a decade on, and I'm still bungling around in TEFL, the circus safety net of the languages graduate. I'm lucky in that I caught the tailend of the grant-loan switchover. I'd seriously reconsider going to Uni nowadays, due to the penury to which it condemns you.

alanorei said...

Alien said:

Science and engineering are seriously undervalued in the UK,


and pumping out more graduates won't change that.

Agreed. The problem is many-faceted and a serious imbalance exists.

Britain's entire culture glamorises people like lawyers, stockbrokers and doctors

Agreed. Plus sports personalities, chat-show hosts, soap icons, rock junkies, errant politicians and spoiled royals, God help us.

However, this is a good quote, from an engineer who made good. Thanks for prompting me to dredge it out of my sub-conscious, btw. I had not thought of it since 1966.

while actively denigrating engineers and scientists;

Agreed. Because the tree-huggers have surreptitiously captured (infiltrated) the environmental high ground, especially in the media. Perceptions need changing.

it's no wonder so many smart kids choose to study Law and Medicine instead, or go to work shoveling money in the City after graduating in science or maths.

Agreed, though this is interesting.

The survey is a bit dated (2004) but I can vouch for the accuracy (in 2004) of the Education and Chemical salary data in the pie-chart at the bottom.

A science/engineering graduate entering the City might, I suppose, be on a 6-figure income or more, in a very short time. But it depends on whether or not you would relish that kind of career. I don't know about other engineering disciplines but up to 90% of Chem Eng graduates would not, apparently, even in the 21st century.

MarmiteToasty said...

I found me way over from that loon Scottie's blob...

My lads girlfriend spent her school years in a very EXPENSIVE private school then college then a 3 years at uni getting a journalist degree... where does she work.......IN A BLOODY GARAGE taking the dosh for petrol giving out carwash tokens and selling sweets and cheap car rugs.....

2 of my lads did state school, had 2 great fun filled growing up years at college and both have a job they love... be it not the ones they studied for at college.... and it cost me diddly swat and they have NO debts.....


Junglist999 said...

You can learn more from some discerning use of the internet and some serious self-interrogation than you can at university.

IMO the internet has changed everything.

Primary schools are good - when they teach the three R's. The rest is largely a waste of time and money.

Dave said...

Surely they'll only get a job in a call centre if the relocate to the Mumbai area!

Anonymous said...

Whats wrong with media course's? Their what got me my job that i do today and have been for 6+ years, i also make 3x more than you do.

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