August is the cruellest month

I’ve said this before, but August brings out the worst in Higher Education press coverage. This year we have additional variables; a higher education bill in passage through parliament, changes to fees and grants, and the whole uncertainty of Brexit.

We’ve always had increased media attention in August; a section of the population is paying especial attention to higher education for obvious reasons.  The media, normally seeing a decrease in political stories, can turn to features and comment about higher education.  Waiting for their place at university or college to be confirmed, a potential student can find hundreds of pieces which offer advice and guidance or provide warnings.  Each year interns will produce new pieces on their first week at university (which generally will have been a residential experience on a full time course).  Amongst this siren voices will call, warning those same  potential students of the doom that awaits them if they go to university.

This year, they’ve started early.  The Intergenerational Foundation (IF) has made a big splash with its report on Graduate Premiums.  As the return on investment argument has been so prevalent,  higher education will always now be vulnerable to this.  As with the CIPD report last August, problems with the data will not be picked up.  IF don’t muck about with their worry – is the premium a ‘manna, myth or plain mis-selling’ (posed as a question which can be left hanging).  As often seems to happen, it is in the picking up of these stories that the cruellest work is done.  Mostly under the guise of this header: are too many people going to university? 

The Telegraph offers us two columnists picking up on both IF and the removal of grants.  First Eliot Barker, who’s about to do an economics degree, offers reassurance on the of those removal of grants, mostly because he’ll be ok with his own anticipated graduate premium.  Those who are taking degrees in ‘David Beckham Studies’ might not be so lucky (naturally the 8 year old report he cites about a Sports degree with Beckham in it doesn’t quite back up his claim).

Liam Harrington gives us the employer perspective.  Liam, who runs a company called UNILAD, is looking for experience and dedication more than whether someone has a degree. This seems sensible – few roles would simply take on graduates without finding out if they are interested or capable of doing the job. But this is extended into a general concern about university – especially non-vocational degrees. 

Potential students are advised to gain experience as well as their degree, again sensible advice, and one that has always been a feature of the area that Liam works in.  UNILAD describes itself as:

A young and innovative media company, our rapidly growing platform connects people to the latest trending stories and news. 

As an example, it is currently looking for a ‘Trending Gossip Writer’ to ‘constantly keep up with the world news as it breaks’, to ‘live and breathe all things trending’ etc.  The role requires familiarity with social media, news production, writing articles in an engaging and funny way. And, at the end of the requirements, UNILAD is looking for someone who is 

Educated to degree level or equivalent

Clearly, even with a ‘vocational’ degree, any applicant who isn’t able to show that they can ‘Obsessively track social media trends across platforms’  won’t be suitable.  In effect there’s no necessary reason that they should have to be a graduate, but here’s the rub – being, say, an English graduate wouldn’t prevent them from working for UNILAD, but would also enable them to also consider a wide range of other roles too. 

In August, it would be nice if the siren voices, whether they are think tanks or the columnists that respond to them, could seek a balance.  Otherwise it just seems cruel to close down options for people who might be on the verge of a transformational experience in higher education.



One thought on “August is the cruellest month

  1. Pingback: More shocking ‘research’ on ‘pointless’ university degrees | moremeansbetter

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