Education Quandary

'My daughter is in her third year at university, but is still unwilling to work hard. She says all she needs to do is get her degree. How can we make her see that the kind of degree that she gets is also important?'
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Tell her that if she thinks a mediocre degree is going to mean anything in today's world, she's way behind the times.

HILARY'S ADVICE

Tell her that if she thinks a mediocre degree is going to mean anything in today's world, she's way behind the times. Degrees are 10 a penny now. Forty per cent of under-30s go into higher education, more than treble the number who did so 15 years ago, and employers are increasingly using computer programmes to screen sheep from goats. If you don't have an upper second or better, you don't even get an interview. Your daughter may feel that her vibrant personality and outstanding charisma will be enough to convince people of her worth, but she needs to realise that she may not even get the chance to stand before them.

The number of graduate jobs is dropping, while the number of high-level graduates is mushrooming. Six years ago just under 50 per cent of students graduated with firsts or upper seconds. Last year it was more than 58 per cent. And yes, this is grade inflation, but her job is to work out how she is going to survive in a world where this is the reality.

Having said that, it is not entirely clear which graduates earn what. Researchers say that having a first can add about 13 per cent to a graduate's earnings above what someone with a 2:2 will get, but it also helps if you are graduating from a top university, or into a high-earning field such as law, medicine, economics, business, maths or engineering. Arts graduates, on the other hand, can end up earning less than their peers who left school with only A-levels. Men do better than women. Women graduates still only earn three quarters of what men do. And if two graduates leave university with the same degree, the one from the higher social background will do better - friends in high places are still, it seems, good for a leg-up.

Of course, your daughter may not care tuppence about materialistic things such as salaries. In which case, you can only hope that she has developed some compensatory passion. But if she hasn't got much out of studying her subject at university, or developed an enthusiasm for something such as drama or student radio, then it sounds very much as if she has wasted her time there - and most probably your money, too.

READERS' ADVICE

Bring a selection of job advertisements to your daughter's attention in which the employers state that only applicants with firsts or upper seconds need bother to apply. Many employers view seconds and worse only as evidence of lack of academic ability, or of unwillingness to buckle down and work, or both. Fair or unfair, like it or not, that's how things are.

Grant Hole, Hertfordshire

Your daughter sounds like the sort of student that my own daughter, a university tutor, says she has to deal with all the time. She says that more and more students are now going through university believing that, whatever happens in their lives, their parents will pick up the tab and sort it out for them. She says this "infantilises" them, and makes them unable to think for themselves, to deal with any hardships or setbacks, or to take full responsibility for their actions. She says these skills presumably come later, when they are embarking on their adult lives, but that it is then too late for them to make what they could have of university. Students have to realise that higher education is not a right, but a privilege, and one that imposes on them a duty to seize what it has to offer.

Edie Greene, Cambridge

Presumably your daughter is over 18? If so, she is an adult and able to make her own choices. If she chooses not to work, then that's her right. Maybe it means she won't get a good degree, and the kind of nice job in accountancy, or banking or whatever, that you expect her to get. But maybe that's not what she wants. University should be a time for people to explore who they are and what they are really interested in, not to get their wheels stuck in the tramlines of a career. There will be years of that to come later.

Dermot Mcguire, Liverpool

NEXT WEEK'S QUANDARY

I have some spare time, and recently volunteered to help with reading in my children's school. But the school turned me down, saying that it doesn't use untrained volunteers in this way any more. I felt humiliated and annoyed. Is this the attitude that all schools take these days? Surely if they are trying to raise standards, they should be glad of any help they can get?

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, 13 October, at The Independent, Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser

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