A recent survey conducted by “Which?” and “The Higher Education Policy Institute” has recently suggested that almost one in three first year students don’t believe that their courses are good value for money. Ever since the tuition fees rose to £9000 a year, expectations of what we will get out of our degrees has risen considerably. This is quite understandable. Whether you agree with the increase in fees or not it is obvious that now students are paying triple the amount they were compared to last year, there was always going to be an increased expectation imposed upon the universities to offer us more “value for money.” Our parents want to be safe in the knowledge that the round the world cruise they sacrificed in order to send their little darling off to university, won’t have been wasted just to prolong the three years before their child is stacking shelves at Asda. On top of this the government wants to believe that there’ll be another batch of fresh young faces ready to berate Ed Miliband and co. from the opposition benches when they get dumped out of office. And finally there’s us, the students, who ultimately want to ensure that our lives of easy living and unending satisfaction don’t come to a sudden halt as soon as we graduate. All of this pressure amounts to a huge need for universities to prove that they are offering a considerable improvement upon the forgotten days of £3000 a year education. But the problem is, how does a university do this?
From the discussion that is circulating in the press along with the endless literature prospective students are bombarded with before September, it all seems to come down to figures. An article on the Mail Online mentions how students only get 20 minutes a week more with lecturers in comparison to 2007. The focus on judging a university’s worth seems now to be based upon how much of something it can offer the student. Whether it be contact hours or an average graduate salary or even the university’s spend per student, universities are now being increasingly assessed on what they can guarantee a student rather than the opportunities that the student has to progress in their chosen field of study, and this is dangerous. With attending university now becoming such an investment, the hunt for a one to go to has become more an act of shopping, with universities taking on the role of marketers to convince us, the investors, to invest. Yes there will always be vocational degrees required and these types of degrees will usually have more focus on these figures as the aim is to obtain a set skill by the end. However where this business of selling degrees is going to be crippling is to the arts and humanities.
The issue we’re now facing is that prospective students are expecting university education to be a guaranteed ticket into employment and they are encouraged to think this way. With the government’s slashing of arts budgets as well as universities, including our own, paying more attention to the nationally favoured subjects such as business and science, it’s no wonder that students now see a degree as a commodity that they can purchase rather than a reward for their contribution to their field of study. Although universities have evolved over the years, they are primarily a place free from the world of commerce where academics can advance their thoughts free from the influence of the outside world. However we’re now left in a situation where league tables and contrived contact hours are the defining elements of a university. The next batches of students will value 22k a year graduate schemes over intellectual experiences and the whole university system will turn into sea of narrow minded “professionals.” So Mr Cameron if you truly believe that “Education that inspires and instils a love of books, of knowledge and of learning is one route to a happy and fulfilling life” as you so profoundly stated in 2005 is true, open your eyes and do something to stop the influx of young professionals from taking over the all too the vulnerable academics before it is too late.