Anna Romanovska responds to a New Statesman article that claimed University was a con, arguing it skirts around the real issue – inequality of outcomes between ethnicities in education.
There has been a recent surge in criticism of universities ‘giving out’ top degree classifications. However, are these criticisms really justified, or are they another misconception of the standards today’s society imposes upon its youth?
I find some of the arguments of Harry Lambert, the guy who wrote the New Statesman article on how ‘the British degree lost its value’ misleading and untrue. He claims that ‘academic standards have collapsed.’ Personally, as a philosophy student, attaining firsts in essays and exams is incredibly difficult. Most of my cohort have a stable record of attaining 2:1s and 2:2s, with the annoying odd person successfully maintaining a first overall. Surely, if academic standards have collapsed, I would have received at least one first for my first-year essays. Perhaps it depends on the subjectivity or objectivity of the degree, but that is something I cannot judge, having no experience in said ‘objective’ degrees.
The article goes as far as to argue that the grading system of some universities does not protect against students who have “been able to buy the grade they wanted.” Not to sound like an immigrant grateful for the freedoms of the West, but I am pretty sure that payment for grades is only applicable for the extremely rich who have the money to pay for an entire university building. My choice to do my degree abroad was in part because of the corruption and gender-based coercion associated with Czech public universities. A study from the Charles University in Prague found that “over three-quarters of Czech university students have at some point been victims of sexual harassment.” Now that is a university system notorious for giving away grades for ‘small’ fees and as a result of sexual harassment of female students. The same simply cannot be said for the United Kingdom. It is much less likely for a student to be turned away and mocked for coming forward after being sexually harassed, and there are measures in place to avoid paying for grades.
Furthermore, with the pressures of the fast-paced, high standard society we live in now, surely it should come as no surprise that the number of students working their butts off for their degrees has increased. Again, not to sound like a salty Generation Z kid, but standards have changed. We have all seen the memes joking about employers wanting applicants to be fluent in 5 languages, own a pilot license while also being able to bring World Peace within a day. In addition to that, most reputable corporations and employers require at least a 2:1 when hiring new employees. Then why is Mr Lambert so surprised that the percentage of ‘good honours’ degrees has increased from 47% to 79%?
My choice to do my degree abroad was in part because of the corruption and gender-based coercion associated with Czech public universities
As a foreign student, I constantly feel under pressure by studying in the UK. I feel as if me being non-British places a giant magnifying glass on all my university work. I am a high achiever: managing a 2:1 average while also juggling 3 committee positions and studying language after language. When people learn about all the things that I’m doing whilst at university, they’re usually baffled: why would someone willingly place so much pressure upon themselves? The answer is easy: I want to stand out, especially with the shadow of a no-deal Brexit looming over my head. So do many others, which is why we often overwork ourselves to the point of mental and physical exhaustion.
There is also the ethnic minority factor. A 2016 study by the Institute for Social and Economic Research found that ethnic minority graduates were 5% to 15% less likely to be employed than their white British peers six months after graduation, with some earning less within their graduate jobs. A Guardian article from the same year raised concerns about the career futures of ethnic minority graduates. Although ethnic minority groups were more likely to go on to university than the average white British school leaver, they still struggled to find employment six months after graduating from university. At first glance, this data favours Lambert’s thesis. However, any further analysis would show this to be false. I therefore propose an amendment to Lambert’s argument on ‘the great university con:’ though the grading system may force more competition, it fails those who do not fall into the demographic of white and British. I am not arguing for a boosting of grades for ethnic minority groups, that is not the point. Rather, graduate employers and the career support services within universities need to have a closer look at what may influence this disadvantage in finding employment after graduation.
There has most definitely been an increase in pressure on young adults to go to university. The truth is, university cannot be considered as a career steppingstone for everyone. Though it has its advantages, it does not secure a future for everyone, less for some than others. The only alternative I can think of is to adopt the ranking system held by universities in the United States. However, such a shift would only create an extremely toxic environment and make university even more challenging to our mental health than it already is.