What we go to school for

 
 

With a ‘bare-bones’ college program now offered in the UK, Evan O’Quigley asks if there is more to college than a degree

Since the economic recession began in 2008 there has been talk of increasing tuition fees in universities all across the world. Our own little island is no different, where this year we all had the good fortune of paying an extra five hundred quid or so in order to attend this very university.

In the United Kingdom college was always free under the welfare state until 1998, when tuition fees were introduced at £1,000 a year. This year they were brought up to maximum fees of £9,000, which is now the cost of attending many top-ranking universities such as Oxford and Cambridge. This increase has already taken its toll on UK education, with university applications falling by twelve per cent in 2011.

In order to try and combat this new system, which is leaving many without third level education, Coventry University College are offering full-time evening courses from 7pm to 10pm, and on weekends until 4pm, for half the price of usual fees. Their students get the same degree for less money, and have more freedom to work during the course of their studies. While some may feel that this solves the problem, allowing people to work and fund their own way through a degree, it does raise the question: is there more to attending university than just the degree and the education itself?

How many times have you thought, ‘I love college, but wouldn’t it be so much better without all the academic stuff?’ If only we could just hang around all day drinking weak SU coffee and eating chips in the student bar without having to worry about silly things like assignments and exams.  From the minute you walk into college on the first day, you are bombarded by an overwhelming array of extra-curricular options. There are posters everywhere for various societies, and people are handing you countless flyers for gyms that you won’t be joining since you are not planning on doing anything remotely healthy or constructive for the next few months. Many students move away from home and have to learn to manage without their parents for the first time in their lives. Through the endless array of clubs, societies and excuses to drink you meet new people, develop new interests and have new experiences. There are so many different aspects to university life that it’s all too easy to briefly forget about its educational purpose.

The problem with this new discount-degree proposal is that it offers education with virtually no authentic university experience. The wider college experience prepares people emotionally as well as educationally, and helps develop skills that will last a lifetime.

It also prompts the question, if students are to work five days a week in order to pay for their education as well as doing night classes, then when exactly are they supposed to have time for any kind of a social life? Are we to believe that in order to compete in the jobs market students will now essentially have to turn their life off for three or four years and come out at the end forgetting how to actually live?  It also leads you to wonder how anyone is supposed to be able to pay attention to lectures and classes past seven o’clock in the evening, having already worked a full shift. Usually by four o’clock I’m no longer able to remember what day it is, let alone when Germany was united under Bismarck.

Any proposal which would extend higher education to a wider base of people is always welcome, whether it’s perfect or not. However, this latest proposal seems to be a half-baked apology for the considerable damage done to the economy by politicians who introduced increased university fees in the first place.

The student fees situation has become more and more of a problem as of late. In the ‘Occupy’ protests that are taking place all across the world, many students are beginning to take to the streets, enraged that they must struggle in order to pay for college. While the concept of students working full-time is relatively new in Europe it has long been commonplace in the US, where there is less focus on state funded third level education.

While receiving the bare bones of a degree in order to compete in the jobs market may seem like a happy medium for some, it may ultimately leave many others justifiably dissatisfied.

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