Monday, 23 August 2010

Wet-eared 18 year olds and eroded pathways.

What is it about 18 year olds?! A-Level results came out last Friday and the main news topic for the following few days was the paradoxical tale firstly of record levels of pass rates and how many students are now getting A*’s and secondly how many students who didn’t get their expected grades will miss out on Uni places and how many LESS clearing places there are compared to last year. The news stories were making out like thousands of students were gonna suddenly be turfed out on the street because they a) couldn't get a Uni place, which as a result means that they b) can't get a job (no one will hire them you see, they're uneducated!).

My blood boils when I see stories like that for more than one reason. I have two simple little vowels for those masses of students who didn't get the grades necessary to go to their chosen uni - O U. Okay okay, so I know the OU isn't exactly the first choice for 18 year olds, I mean I would imagine a lot of fresh-faced 18 year olds are marginally more interested in student life and the students union than study life and library facilities but if they genuinely believe that they won’t be able to get a decent job without a University education then honestly, they could do a LOT worse than study with the OU. Besides, it’s cheaper than going to a redbrick, means you can study anywhere in the country and generally OU degrees are held in very high regard.

But why do they NEED to get a degree anyway? I don’t profess to be hugely knowledgeable on the subject (no pun intended) but it seems like degrees are two-a-penny these days anyway. When I first set out with the OU to study towards a degree I was so excited thinking how brilliant it would be to get my letters, but as time has gone on I’ve realised that having a degree isn’t anything out of the ordinary any more. In order to stand out you need something a bit more. BBC Breakfast had a piece on their Saturday morning programme about just this matter. The piece was trying to illustrate that employers aren’t necessarily as impressed with “Student X” who knuckled down at Uni and managed to get a First Class honours degree as they are with “Student Y” who still managed to get an Upper 2nd but during their time at Uni did some volunteer work, sat on a few Uni committees and gained a bit of life experience in the process.

I, on the other hand am “Student Z”. I didn’t do any A-Levels. I started them... But then got distracted by anything and everything and dropped out halfway through to get a job instead. I never regretted dropping out; it was the right decision for me at the time and didn’t hamper my opportunity to do a degree anyway so I have to question whether there would’ve been any point in doing them. My beloved, bless his almost-40-year-old cotton socks, can’t even remember what subjects he took at A-Level let alone what results he got! So honestly, is there any point? (As an aside, he did a degree in Accountancy and now works as a mountain bike mechanic... Go figure!). At 16 years old when you’re trying to decide what subjects to take (which you have to pick carefully because they feed on towards a chosen degree subject) how on earth do you know what you want to do with the rest of your life?? If I HAD thought about my A-Levels properly would I have picked subjects I thought would lead on to a decent career, or would I have picked subjects I just found interesting? The joy of the OU is that I’ve been able to indulge myself with that one subject I always fancied studying but didn’t think would get me anywhere career-wise; Philosophy. As it turns out, Philosophy links in quite nicely to the career path I now intend treading but at 16 years old how was I to know that? No one ever asked me what I wanted to do in the future so what chance would I have stood?

There’s a lot of competition out there at the minute for training/jobs/experience and whatnot so it seems in order to have the best possible chance you need more than just education or intellect, you need to have proven initiative and enterprise, enthusiasm and sensibility; something that shows employers that you’re more than just willing and able.

Who would’ve thought the day would come when a degree was barely even worth putting on your CV eh. I’d best hurry up and get onto a PhD before the same happens with them!!


  1. Not quite true about not knowing what you wanted to do !!
    From a VERY early age you wanted to be a Journo.....
    Remember the fanzine, the travelling all over the country, the interviews. What age were you?
    What's this you're doing now if not a derivation of journalism?

  2. I was about 15 when I started doing the music fanzine, never actually released an issue but got to interview loads of people and got scores of free CD's etc.

  3. And you're right Dad, I did fancy being a journalist, but I also fancied being a researcher, a vet and I'm sure at one point it was my ambition to work in a fish & chip shop...

    My rather vague point was that a 16 year old mind is too fickle to be entrusted with making a decision which education professionals claim will shape the rest of your life. You learn as your life progresses.