Education Quandary: 'Isn't it daft for the Government to push people into university, and then have to set up special job schemes for them?'

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Hilary's advice

As a parent with a child coming on to the job market this summer, it certainly feels that way. Why spend three years piling up debts to get a degree only to hit the dole at the end of it?

In my daughter's case, she has at least studied a subject she loves, at a university where the teaching is rigorous. She has honed her thinking skills, and her studies will, she hopes, at least enhance her life, if not necessarily her career.

But too many universities are underfunded and overloaded, which means that thousands of students now get poor teaching in overcrowded lecture halls. They study subjects that don't really engage them and worry about their debts mounting up. Many spend much of their time either drunk or hungover, while others secretly admit the unstructured student life leaves them feeling bored and aimless. Almost a quarter of all students drop out.

Of course, there are thousands of gifted young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who should be at university and aren't, and everything possible needs be done to encourage them to aim higher.

But there are also far too many young people who are at university and shouldn't be, and who are the victims of a society that believes a degree of any sort is always superior to training for a skilled, vocational job.

Organisations such as the charity Edge are now trying to shift that position, but it is an uphill task. Meanwhile, as you so rightly point out, we are left trying to figure out what to do with all the unwanted graduates flooding the labour market.

Readers' advice

I got a good marketing degree 18 months ago. Since then, I have applied for more than 400 jobs and have had eight interviews. One led to a job but the company had to cut back after three months and made me redundant. I now work as a bicycle courier, which I enjoy more than the office job. I have no idea what my future will be.

Jason Williams, London E8

University is surely about more than just jobs? It opens up the world to young people and teaches them how to think about life and themselves. They get the chance to widen their social circle, and there are so many opportunities that are not available elsewhere. How many writers, actors and sportspeople took their first steps while they were students? I am almost 70, and envy them all.

Lily Dewar, Bristol

I am 16, and really into music. I don't want to go to university, but my parents say I have to, because without a degree I will be left behind later. They point out that all my friends will have degrees and I won't, but what is the point of a degree if there are no jobs?

Matt Carr, Derbyshire

Next Week's Quandary

Could dyslexia be a myth used by educationalists to cover up poor teaching, as one Labour MP has just alleged? Both my children have friends who have been labelled dyslexic and get extra time for exams, yet I know these children well and can't see anything different about them. My son is disorganised. Could I get him labelled dyslexic if I tried?

Send your replies, or any quandaries you would like to have addressed, to h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose replies are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition. Previous quandaries are online at www.hilarywilce.com, where they can be searched by topic.

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