Friday, 5 August 2011

Getting your money's worth

When you work in higher education, you become highly attuned to everything written on the subject. As the A levels release date comes ever closer, I can be sure of one thing: that when they are released, newspapers will claim three things: A levels are getting easier, it's becoming more expensive to study at university and Oxbridge are discriminating against state schools.
I don't know enough about the first to be able to comment properly, and I would likely go into rant mode if I were to try and discuss the third (although it's not true, by the way!); but the second observation is one that i can talk about - here goes!

It is no secret that university fees are going up astronomically. From 2012, many universities will be allowed to charge £9,000 for their degrees, and although many are putting support packages in place to provide for students who would otherwise struggle with this financial burden, the question still remains on how universities will be able to prove their courses are worth the money. Much has been said on teaching quality, research and lecture time for students, but one vital aspect appears - to my mind - to have been completely omitted from the discussion.
When I was at university (I did my undergrad at Keele and my MA at UEA in Norwich) my mother impressed upon me the need to visit the careers centre. I hardly ever did, for the very simple reason that they were rubbish. The staff never seemed very helpful and their layouts were ill organised and confusing. When i first started my current job in the academic office at Somerville College - part of Oxford University - I was invited, as part of my induction programme, to visit the University's Career service. What I saw there amazed and impressed me.
Real thought has gone into the layout of the rooms, so that a student can be guided through the various stages of thinking about and applying for jobs, so there's a section where one can get guidance on preparing a CV and covering letter, and once that's sorted, another section dedicated to every type of career - some I'd not even thought about. Of course the prestige of an Oxford education holds its own special significance and there are lots of summer internships available for those who are part way through their degrees. Each college has its own dedicated rep from the careers service who can come out and give help and advice to those who who are about to set foot into 'real life'. So much is offered and it truly is a great asset for the University.

The point I am trying to make (without letting my passion run away with me) is that with employment being as hard to obtain as it currently is, and with more and more companies requiring university education from their employees, the careers service is quickly becoming one of the more vital aspects of university life. To my mind, money should be invested in this service at every university, because the more help our students get, the quicker they grab hold of a job that pays well, then the better able universities will be to prove that spending the money was worth it, thereby ensuring higher education can continue for the next generation.

Hmmm .... I think I let my passion run away with my meaning! I'm slightly worried that I'm sounding snobby or elitist here, and I certainly don't mean to. I am more than aware that higher education is not for everyone - I certainly never agreed with the Labour party policy of a target of 50% in higher education. It always seemed to be such an arbitrary figure and something that might end up forcing those better suited to apprenticeships or vocational courses into a form of education that did not suit them.

I can't think of a decent way of wrapping up this post without getting overly passionate (and as I've just engaged in a heated discussion with my parents' next door neighbour about whether or not any arts degree is worth while - she thought not, and managed to term my entire 4 years at University as a 'Mickey Mouse degree' - I'd best not start ranting.) My main point is, as I'm sure you'll all have gathered, is that Oxford's careers service rocks, and other universities would be well served by using some of the £9,000 fees to improve theirs. It's the way forward - you heard it here first!


Dark Puss said...

I can assure you that many other University career services "rock" too, You will, I'm sure be aware, that given the commensurate goverment cuts the £9000 that your (and my) university will explicitly charge will (just about) enable us to provide the same level of support for our students. In the area of library provision, book and journal inflation (and the depreciation of the pound against dollar and euro in which currency we buy so many of our journals) races ahead so fast that we will all be seeing cuts in what we can make available or else we will be cutting other parts of our University in order to maintain it.

oxford-reader said...

I'm sure others rock too - I only have three by which I can compare, so I realise I'm being very general here!
And yes, I'm well aware of the limitations of the increase in fees. I suppose I'm hoping for some Utopian society where we'll actually be able to use the extra money!