In recent years, growing resentment over increased university tuition fees has led many to challenge the idea that obtaining a degree is a necessary career step. Thousands of prospective undergraduates are opting instead to pursue apprenticeships, or to develop their careers within a company. This is entirely understandable; university is not affordable for many, and for others there are sufficient professional opportunities elsewhere that demand no fees in return for boosted career prospects.
The commodification of education is outrageous, but academic development is not the sole service that universities boast. Unlike school, our campus provides opportunities to develop independence, interpersonal skills, and your CV. My high school in West Sussex had no school paper, no societies, and no employment networks. Our socials were run by those popular pupils whose notoriety meant that they had easy access to positions of power, so events were tailored to their social groups’ preferences. If we wanted help with our CVs, we were sent to a nearby school where the advice was better.
Here, I can run for leadership positions whenever I choose. I have influence. I can invest time in my interests and feel heard. I can actively help to organise social events where I can meet people who have similar preferences to me. I can write for a paper, record a radio show, try a new sport, start any society that I please. If I want help with getting work experience, there is an entire team dedicated to helping me do so. I can access training materials, workshops and speeches. I can watch debates and meet experts in their respective fields.
Those who were privately educated might be less excited by these opportunities. When I told a friend about my interests in feminism and my disappointment in my school’s lack of focus on it, she replied: ‘Why didn’t you just start a society?’
To me, this was laughable. My school had no societies. Private schools are constructed to encourage the same independence and opportunities as university. I do not mean to undermine state schools, but rather to emphasise that lectures are not the only component of university that I pay for.
Independence is also encouraged through self-catering halls, an academic structure which requires self-organisation, and constant situations where you can meet new people. University aids the development of employable character traits. Whilst I do not condone the excessive costs of my degree, it is important to note that there are many ways to take advantage of the facilities here that have no relevance to coursework or exams.
Of course, we should strive for equal educational opportunities which involves protesting the elitism that university fees encourage. But whilst we campaign, we should focus on the chances presented to us to take part in new activities and acquire skills that would be a lot harder to develop elsewhere.
Remember the privileged position that we are in. Do not ignore the options surrounding you that will never be so readily available again. Perhaps we are not getting our money’s worth; get your opportunity’s worth instead.