Thursday, 18 February 2010
“With audacity one can undertake anything, but not do everything.”
I've just received a letter from my old university asking me if I'd like to join many other graduates by donating money to help more students get through their degrees.
“For one nursing student, this cash injection has put a roof over her head,” it says.
Over the years, I've become more and more bitter about my Higher Education experience. I'm aware that I'm quite privileged to have been able to go, but I feel, in retrospect, that the decision was a rash one. I am £9,000 in debt because of my university course. This is a small figure compared to the average £12,000 debt for most 2005 graduates (my graduation year) according to The Institute for Education Policy Research.
I'm pretty appalled that The University of Salford has the nerve to send me this letter. I'm sure many other graduates feel the same. However, I can already imagine the university heads' response to this complaint. They would tell me that it was my choice completely to go to university. Nobody made me do it, and I knew I'd have a large debt to pay off at the end of it. They are right. I just did it because, at the time, it seemed like the right thing to do. What chance did I have of getting a media job with a Merit-level GNVQ?
Universities are businesses. They are there, primarily, to make money. I was a customer, and I paid for three and a half years to get a 2:1 in Professional Broadcast Techniques. Granted, I grafted my arse off to get it. But it would be nice if it was actually worth more than the paper the certificate was printed on. What did I want at the end of all this? I cannot answer that question, to this day. Here's why.
Britain's UCAS system (University and College Admissions System, I think- their website doesn't define this) allows people to apply for various universities at the same time as every other applicant: at the start of their final year at college or 6th form. This was certainly the point at which I went wrong with my adult education. Why apply for a university course when you are knee-deep in a college course? I was half way through this course when I was encouraged to start filling out the form. I was in the middle of one of many heavy modules, consisting of a 2500-word report, a practical project, research and an evaluation. And my grades were slipping. I was too busy to be thinking about the next step.
Let's imagine that my college course, a GNVQ in Media, was less work-intensive than it was. Let's say I had more time to think about my future. I would perhaps have realised that it was still too early to be thinking about my next step. I needed to know what my strengths and weaknesses were- and this couldn't be done with only 50% of my grade marks available.
Here's one proposal for the government, who are ultimately responsible for the growing numbers of people going through HE: force students to take a gap year between Further and Higher Education. Insist that UCAS applications are only sent by students who have completed their Further Education courses.
And here's a proposal for Salford University- and every university. Only put on a course if it will realistically prepare applicants for work in that field. My Professional Broadcast Techniques course taught virtually much nothing about the techniques of broadcasting anything professionally. Throughout the majority of the course we were making pre-recorded programmes. This is Media, in a way, but not Broadcasting. Broadcasting is defined as “to transmit (programmes) from a radio or television station.” I presented on a radio broadcast once, but using a university organisation's Restricted Service Licence. It wasn't integral to the course. Also, the equipment we used on the course was too old for industry use. So even if I wanted to be, say, a cameraman, I would have learned everything on a format that was outmoded. How similar would it be to industry-standard technology? Who can say?
Add to this the breadth of the media industry. If you want to work in TV, why study a course that includes radio modules? I didn't know what I wanted to do, but it was difficult to focus when such a variety of modules were on offer. Variety may be good, you might say. Yes it is, at Further Education level. Variety is vital then. It is the opportunity for students to recognise their strengths. But at Higher Education, you should be focussed on the line of work that you want to go into at the end of it all. Unlike a course tailored for one line of work, an unfocussed course ultimately won't help the students.
I have one last gripe. At college, I grafted consistently for two years. The modules were work-heavy and intensive. Before every deadline, everyone exhausted themselves to be ready in time. After one deadline was met, we were given another module brief. I finished the course with a decent grade and went to university with no idea what was in store.
In contrast, not only was the university course content too broad, it was also drastically mismanaged from the start. When I got to uni, the workload was so light, so unlike my intensive college course, that defied belief. In first year I was given virtually no assignments. First-year students all over the campus, each year, were in the same boat. Nobody had anything to do. In second and third year, the work fluctuated between sparseness and having six imminent deadlines. Work was always dumped on us in one giant heap. Towards Christmas in third year, I was under so much stress that I would vomit into the sink in my bedroom.
So no, University of Salford. I would not like to donate a portion of my meagre insubstantial wage back to you, after everything you've taken off me. However, even though I make a pittance and even though I am normally an extremely tight man, I still give £5 a month to Oxfam, to help people a hell of a lot poorer than any of your potential students.