When does the memory game end? When we stop banging on about degrees…
I can pinpoint the moment I was accepted to study at Newcastle University, representing the final ascent of my academic efforts. Then again, my recalling ability should be reliable: we spend a staggering amount of our educational years playing the memory game. Like so many others I attended university on the pre-conceived idea that the previous stage of the process was over; the practice of knowledge retention and often misguided uses of ‘study time’ were behind me. However, this was far from the reality. There are currently a large number of Covid-cohort students screaming that they didn’t get the ‘full experience’ as a result of the pandemic, but was this all it was cracked up to be beforehand? Since graduating, I have begun an apprenticeship in Digital Marketing alongside a career path into our family business. At each turn, I have looked for any indication that the academic elements of those three years are applicable. So far, I can only look back and wonder: was it really worth it?
Like many within my cohort, I can appreciate our university years were undoubtedly tainted by the Covid-19 pandemic. It ensured our time in shared campus spaces interacting with fellow students was cut remarkably short, and the entire learning journey was adversely affected. It would therefore be easy to attribute problems such as value for money or the relevance of the eventual degree to lockdowns and zoom lectures. But didn’t these flaws exist already? It is hard to see the pandemic resulting in long term disruption, with the return of in-person teaching and student collaboration. Even before the upheaval, the premise of preparing for the world of work has given way to simple knowledge retention and soulless pedalling of someone else’s original ideas.
In my third and final year, I found myself in a position familiar to countless graduates: having absolutely no idea what was coming post-university. I witnessed friends and colleagues battling their way through interview processes, vastly different from the informal chat from a bygone era. From cognitive thinking assessments to maths tests, they confirmed a wider trend; today’s marketplace requires people who can think for themselves, producing creative solutions to unexpected problems. This, in turn, confirms the far broader issue that university no longer prepares its students for the world of work or even finding employment at all. Information learned through study is not always useful in the workplace, and young people are rapidly becoming trapped in a vicious cycle. It begins with time spent studying, leading to an inability to find employment (due to lack of experience), a struggle to gain experience without employment, and circling back to continued study. I am not for a second suggesting that students should only take up degrees directly relevant to a future career; if you are interested in something, you should pursue that interest. But surely, the harsh realities of life after university should be intricately woven into academia. In my new role as a Digital Marketer, I am bound by deadlines for projects and developments, and there is certainly no scope to apply for an ‘extension’. Seemingly, the undoubtedly softer approach to degree-level study suggests that if you aren’t working hard enough, it is someone else’s problem.
So, what is the answer? There remains a level of value through the higher education process in helping young people transition from dependent teenagers to independent adults. However, this is a result of moving away from home, often for the first time, and taking control of responsibilities such as rent payment, utilities and so on. Whilst this should be encouraged, it must be paired with the academic side of university that reflects the modern work landscape, where it is common for people to have several jobs spanning several industries across their lifetime. After all, how can a static degree serve as a career-long marker of competence when the world of work, technology and knowledge is constantly changing? Higher education needs to split students’ focus between pursuing their academic interests, whilst preparing for a range of employment situations. At the most basic level, this must begin with a re-evaluation of late submissions.