It’s becoming increasingly clear that the university is no longer an institution for young minds to engage in a subject that they are passionate about, or even a place where they can gain some kind of social education, but simply a necessity for a career. Last March The Sunday Telegraph reported a former student of Anglia Ruskin University was suing the university after claiming two years of study had left her with a ‘Mickey Mouse’ degree. The problem was that despite gaining a first the student couldn’t find employment.
The Anglia Ruskin case followed an incident where a student from Oxford University was suing his college after failing to gain a first. The student said that this prevented him from gaining a position at a prestigious commercial law firm. While he mentioned occasions that lecturers were late or course content didn’t match up, the student seemed to hold no emotion towards the actual experience of university. He didn’t sue the university because it didn’t teach him what the purpose of the law is or because it didn’t allow him to enjoy a meaningful time there, he sued simply because the number he received on his diploma wasn’t as high as he had hoped.
Perhaps this tendency of students to view university as degree machines has been exacerbated by the institutions themselves. At UEA only 47 percent of this year’s first year students met their offers, as Concrete reported in the previous issue. This means the majority of students failed to meet the standard. While students from every background should be given a chance to take part in the university experience, there comes a point where it is clear that places are being offered simply for the money they bring in.
Even more worrying is the recent trend in grade inflation. The number of graduates nationwide awarded firsts and upper seconds increased from 67 percent in 2010/11 to 78 percent in 2016/17. While many commentators have insisted this a result of universities lowering their internal marking standards to attract more students, this explanation often reeks of snobbishness. The fact is students are working harder than ever because a strong upper second is no longer exceptional but rather a requirement for many professional careers. The sad truth is these circumstances have warped the university experience to the point that intelligent and insightful students have no choice but to view university as ‘the bit before you get a job’.