‘So, what uni are you going to?’ It’s a question sixth form students are often asked. But for me, the answer is: ‘I’m not’. Despite being the only one in my year group to say this, I know it is the best decision for me. People have warned me that I will regret not having a degree, and fellow students have expressed mingled shock and pity, reminding me that I am forfeiting ‘the best three years of my life’ and the glorified ‘uni experience’. I’m not convinced.
My decision was not one I made overnight. It began as a flicker of doubt, and grew after months of sitting through hours of talks on the UCAS process and the various aspects of ‘uni life’. I began to feel a little cornered, and also began wondering if university was really the be-all and end-all we sixth formers seemed to imagine. What were we really going to get out of it?
When Tony Blair said he wanted half of young people to attend university, it was in the name of ‘education, education, education.’ Interestingly, ‘education’ is the one word that has never cropped up on the long list of things people have told me I’ll miss out on by not going to ‘uni’.
Education is certainly not limited to school and university. Even with our unstable internet connection at home, I have discovered that it is possible to learn and practice languages online for free, and to take online courses on everything from physics to philosophy. There are books to read, and cheap ways to find them. Opportunities abound in my local area, such as volunteering at the local museum and archives, where I can learn from the older volunteers, research history and gain valuable experience. It is possible to be academic and not go to university. And it is possible to go to university without being academic.
Financially, I certainly won’t suffer from not going to university. Tuition fees are now £9,250 a year, with many students also forced to take out separate maintenance loans. The end result is often tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt, plus interest. Every year, the government loans students over £16 billion. Social mobility charity the Sutton Trust estimates that 81 per cent of students will not pay off their loans in full. By 2050, the total government liability will have grown to approximately £450 billion.
I don’t need an economics degree to work out that this situation is ludicrous, not only for students, but for current and future taxpayers. Nobody should have to fork out such huge sums to fund a degree, particularly if that degree will be of negligible use in the student’s future. According to a report in 2018, almost one in three university graduates are working non-graduate jobs, while figures published this year show that around 6.3 per cent of university students drop out before completing their degrees. Thanks to the taxpayer, students are generally comforted by the fact that if they don’t earn above a certain amount upon leaving university, they will be exempt from paying anything – but as higher future salaries are supposedly one of university’s selling points, that isn’t really much of a consolation!
Perhaps those disconcerting dropout rates come as no surprise. There is immense pressure on 18 year olds to hurtle into university as soon as they have left school, without due consideration whether they really want to and really need to. Universities are businesses, and degrees have become such an inflated currency that having one no longer seems like a smart exchange, unless you know for sure that you will need it in your future career.
I may miss out on ‘the uni experience’ in the next few years, but instead I will gain experiences elsewhere. I will be free to learn as much I want, free to delve into my interests, free from academic politicisation, free to make headway in my career and start earning, and free from student debt. Bring it on.
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