Everybody wants to be a revolutionary these days don’t they? Yes, Mr Brand, I’m looking at you. Everybody wants to scream, “Fuck The System” without really knowing what said “system” is. Everybody wants to create a movement, but at the same time be an individual. People want exclusivity, but also for you to covet what they have. Society is très, très confused.
There is no sense of belonging; there is no sense of amity; no neighbourly love. Do you know the people that live next to you? Their children’s names, their jobs, their recent trials and tribulations? Do you make an effort to talk to people when doing so won’t necessarily bring you a benefit – you just do it because, well, conversation?
This strain of thought is very much on a tangent from that which I want to talk about, other than that it illustrates the crux of the problem, I suppose. The most intriguing thing about our hell-bent-on-revolution population is that if there were actually to be a revolution, or a war on home turf, or any sort of national uprising that lasted for more than a day and wasn’t confined to a looting of the local JD store, everyone would flee. The Costa Brava would become your regular game of Monopoly. The crux of the problem is the heinously confused and verging-on-self-destructive state of society today.
What I do want to talk about more specifically is that wonderful topic of Higher Education.
What does education mean to you? Is it currently breaking your back? Did it fail you? Are you grateful to have received it? Would you change it?
I went to First, Middle and High School and Sixth Form in the same village (I’m not really sure it actually is a village, but hey). To give credit where it’s due, as a general rule I can’t fault it. At the time, evidently, I despised the place, and complained about it (in particular the uniforms: brown blazers, yellow shirts… The epitome of chic, obviously) on a daily, if not hourly basis. But looking back, as far as state schools go, it was certainly in the upper echelons. Our buildings and materials were new, our staff (relatively) competent, our intra and extra curriculum varied (although far from perfect), and we had the chance to study more or less anything we wanted – if our Sixth Form didn’t provide the teaching, they let us go to a different establishment. I myself completed entirely external and individual exams on the school premises. I must say, I think we did quite well out of it. But I know without a shadow of a doubt that many people that had exactly the same education as me would criticise the same school, the same teachers and the same curriculum until they are lay on their deathbeds. So why is that? How is that two people given precisely the same opportunities can end up at such opposing ends of the spectrum?
Because the English educational system is fucked up.
Where it all goes wrong, in my experienced opinion, is at that crucial moment, that life changing, pivotal, fabulously heart breaking moment when we have to choose what the hell we are going to do with our future.
Now this doesn’t apply to everybody, me being one of the not-bodies. There are so many angles I could attack this question from that I don’t really know where to start. Not only that, but there is such a vast plethora of problems that I can only really handle one for now.
I’ll (sort of) leave aside, for example, the fact that in state school we learn absolutely NOTHING about the small things we REALLY REALLY need to know in order to get anywhere with life; how the government is structured, how to vote, what our votes do, and how to fill out a basic balance sheet. As whilst the happy private school kids DO learn about all that, we’re all sat there in PSHE putting condoms on purple plastic penises at the tender age of fourteen.
For the sake of tending to my anecdotal needs, I think it’s easiest that we go back to the UCAS Era: Personal Statements, predicted grades and suddenly realising you know your Student Reference Number off by heart…
Education is a CON
So you’re seventeen, or eighteen if you’re an early bird like myself. You’re still getting over the fact that you can now more or less choose what to wear on a daily basis (although as far as I’m concerned this was more stress than it was worth, and we ended up with about 92% of the female population of Sixth Form opting for UGG boots and leggings from September to March). The male population has just about hit puberty, let alone maturity. There is sparse facial hair, dubious driving and excessive GHD use everywhere. And then they hit you with it: you need to choose your university course. You need to do your Personal Statement. You need to contact UCAS. You need to go to twelve hundred thousand open days. You need to spend FUCKING HOURS ringing Student FUCKING Finance (they don’t tell you that bit). Erm… Lady, I’ve just figured out how to use a clutch, and I’m meant to be formulating a brilliant How To Get Rich plan RIGHT now?!
Luckily for us indecisive people, there are just hundreds if not thousands of courses to choose from. From the traditional to the just plain ridiculous, the range of degrees available to the youth of today is stupendous. I’m not going to name and shame, because each to their own, but seriously: an overwhelming amount of these courses, these three or four year courses that costs us tens of thousands of pounds, are just a shambles. But you have to go to University you see. You have to get a degree, it doesn’t matter what in – just get the letters. That little scroll thingy. Pay £100 to rent your cap and gown for about three hours (no really). Considering that the price of most university courses nowadays is somewhere in the region of £9,000 per annum, and living costs aren’t much less, a three-year course is going to land you with around about £50,000 of debt.
But it’s ok, because it’s interest-free. You have extra time to pay it off. It just comes out of your salary in little bits, you barely notice it.
Yes well – there’s the catch. THIS IS NOT AN OK WAY TO BE THINKING. THAT IS FIFTY. THOUSAND. ENGLISH. POUNDS. That’s a four-bedroomed house in Stoke these days.
The point is, if you’re spending that amount of money on something, at least try and make that something worth it. Do a degree that has some value to it. Plan ahead. Because here is the Big Dirty Secret that they don’t tell you: those little percentages on the Times’ Good University Guide that tell you how many students got a job 6 months after finishing – it’s a big lie.
OK maybe not a lie. But it’s some sort of huge, revolting, truly exasperating exaggeration. Having a degree means virtually nothing if you haven’t got a CV the length of a toilet roll. You need work experience, you need to have had an actual job, you need to have been in 7 positions of responsibility per day, you need 46 referees, you need to have been Captain of the Synchronised Tin Stacking Team, and to top all of that off you need to have at least a 2:1. And it’s probably best you travel back in time ten years to when there wasn’t an economic crisis in full swing.
It all sounds more or less impossible to do (probably because I made the Tin Stacking Team thing up). And the worst part is, it certainly wasn’t the case a number of years back. The entire system was different. There were far fewer courses, and even fewer universities. Which meant that if you went, you went and you did well. Because you were one of a select few, whether it was because your family could afford to pay for it, or because you really had the brains for it. Now you can look at this as elitism, or you can not be a twat and look at the reality of the situation, which is this: people are seriously, really truly spending at least three years of their life stacking their debt up on a daily basis, dabbling in overdrafts, drugs and probably missing more lectures than they attend at some imposter of a higher education establishment and for what? The traumatising truth is that I know a painful amount of young people, supposedly the future of our generation, that have exited that stage of their life knowing little more than they did when they entered it.
And for fifty thousand pounds.
But you’re told you can’t avoid it, because you will not be employed without a degree. It’s just a vicious, vicious cycle. My advice to young people of late when they tell me they want to go to University to study things like Journalism, or Events Management, or even sometimes Business Management has been just don’t. Please, do not do it to yourselves. What people don’t realise (because they aren’t made aware, and they just blindly follow the misleading mantras of the Careers Advisors of today) is that at their origins, these sectors did NOT require a degree. In my eyes, there are no two ways about it: somebody that has worked in at a magazine for three to four years will know exponentially more about journalism than somebody that has studied the theory of it all for the same amount of time. So you start at the bottom, as a runner, an assistant, a secretary, whatever you want – and you work your way up, like they did in the days before degrees became the not-so-Holy Grail. And in three years time, compare your knowledge, your bank account and your prospects to someone that’s just come out of a degree in the corresponding subject that is supposedly meant to then propel them feet-first into a Management role.
At some point in my distant past, and as is probably evident, I wanted to be a columnist. It had never in all my childhood or early teenaged years crossed my mind to be a lawyer. My career aspirations fluctuated between Editor in Chief of a Conde Nast super entity and Detective Chief Inspector (thanks, Ms. Christie). But I had also always been an academic, with good grades, and none of the Redbricks offered a Journalism course. So I just casually picked one of the toughest courses in the country (I really, really shouldn’t have done that) and got on with it. Which brings me to my opposing angle…
Education is… an education
If you want it hard enough, you’ll go and get it. When you’re proud of or inspired by (or probably with today’s backwards way of thinking super salty about) a person, it’s usually because they’ve worked so hard that you’re just in awe of them, yes? Whether it’s your Mum working four jobs to keep food on the table, or your best friend going Casper the Friendly Ghost on you to get that 1st, or even of yourself when you open your results papers or your pay cheque, hard work pays off. It’s so cliché and I really, really hate clichés but it’s the simple truth.
And whilst I have just ranted for a good 1000 words about society being messed up, and putting us in a position that barely allows us to see the light at the end of tunnel that we’ve been dragging ourselves along for at least twenty years of our godforsaken lives, from SATS to entry exams to GCSEs to AS to A Levels to interviews to internship applications right the way to that sunny day, that wonderfully sunny day in Summer where we hope pathetic fallacy is going to come into play and we check our Final Year results and we see what EVERYTHING we have EVER worked for has finally boiled down to… *takes huuuuge enormous finger breath*… Dividends.
Dividends – because what you put in, you get out.
And your fifty thousand pounds will be worth it.
So stop bitching. Stop moaning. If you’re applying for University courses, THINK about what you want to get out of your money. Aim higher. Pick a course that’s an entry level above your predicted grade. Stop stealing your brother’s ID and going to Lloyds, stop spending your money on McDonald’s when you should be in your fourth period, grit your teeth, get your head down and work. If you’re struggling, ask for help. If you’re currently in your First Year of Uni, do not under any circumstances take as gospel that stupid, stupid rumour that ‘First Year means nothing’ – just because it doesn’t count towards your final grade (at least on the majority of courses), that doesn’t mean it won’t influence your CV and therefore any work experience you have. And on that note, work experience, work experience, work experience. Before you book a fateful trip to Ibiza, get at least one lot of work experience sorted for the summer.
This may all sound horrific, time consuming, and boring. But it will one billion per cent be worth it, not only for the sake of having a better CV, but also because experiences are what round you as a person, and open your eyes to new perspectives. And it’s hard work that gets you those experiences.
I have seen the picture at the top of this post far too many times. I say far too many because realistically if you have a talent, and you know you do, and you don’t nurture it, whose fault is that? Your hard work and your future are on you, and only you. Take responsibility for your own damn life. Stop “dreaming big” about being an entrepreneur and running a firm where strippers prowl the aisles and marching bands come through on a regular basis and you snort coke off your other-other-chick’s breasts you paid for in the back of your limo and the money seems to spontaneously eject itself from the holes in the receiving end of the telephone. Wake up.
My biggest inspirations aren’t CEOs, or OBEs, or anybody whose name was ever in a book. They’re my friends that I’ve seen push a part-time job, run their own company, improve on their hobbies, complete a degree with a top classification AND find time for their social life all day every day. Work ethic is infectious, and success breeds success. The earlier it’s instilled in you, the better. The earlier you realise that “the system” isn’t a safety net, and that it won’t plan your life for you because it hasn’t figured itself out yet and therefore get your arse into gear, the better. The more ROI you get, evidently the better.