Amol Rajan: 'Don’t go to university because you think it’s the safest place to lose your virginity'

 

Editor, The Independent

Once upon a time in a land far away, going to a British university was free and so everyone fancied a shot at it. But because everyone fancied a shot, and because successive governments wanted to expand the university sector to seem more egalitarian, lots more people did go to university. And then universities couldn’t cope, and asked for help, which is why Tony Blair introduced tuition fees which, over the coming years, will likely rise rather than fall.

That is a very potted history of what’s happened to universities in Britain in the past 50 years or so. And the point about it is that tuition fees very fundamentally changed the contract between you, the student, and your university, which has gone from being simply an arm of society to being the provider of a service. And because you guys are now not just students, but customers who are incurring an additional cost, you have to think very hard about whether or not university is worth not just your time, but your money too. Or maybe your parents have to think about that. Somebody does.

My view is that – done properly – university is one of the greatest privileges and pleasures this life will give us, and I hope that you make the most of it. It’s time that you won’t get back, but will probably pine for and be nostalgic about. But there are good and bad reasons to go to university, and before explaining why I think you guys are very lucky, and why I’m very jealous and wish I was heading to university this September too, I think I had better explain some of the bad reasons to go to university.

Don’t go to university just because your mates are going. Don’t go to university because you can’t think of anything better to do. Don’t go to university because you think it’s the safest place to lose your virginity, experiment with Class-A drugs, or do a pub crawl. Don’t, in other words, go to university because you’re a waster or want to be one.

You should go to university because you love life and learning. The three – maybe four, even more – years you are about to spend in education will almost certainly be deeply formative, for your career, and more importantly for your character. A lot of the clichés are true: you probably will meet some of the friends who will be your closest pals throughout the rest of your life; you probably will have at least some fun, and maybe a hell of a lot; and you really will discover a lot more about who you are, for good and for bad.

All those things are worthwhile. Many of them are the stuff dreams are made of. Almost all of my closest friends are people I spent three years running around with in Cambridge. My wife was someone I met there; and the place meant so much to us that two years ago we got engaged there, and last year were married there. So my three years were about as formative as you’re likely to get.

But the learning aspect of it matters hugely too. Whichever university you end up at, it is one of the great achievements of our species to design institutions where young people can spend several years learning at the feet of wiser souls who have spent their lives, however long, immersed in a subject. Knowledge is nearly the most precious commodity ever invented, and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll spend the next few years soaking up as much of it as possible. Youth really is wasted on the young, and that’s something you only grasp when you get older and realise how lucky you were to have access to such great teachers for so long.

You guys are about to embark on a thrilling adventure. What you make of it is almost entirely down to you. With a bit of luck, you’ll learn huge amounts, make bonds of love that sustain you forever, and have a blast. I wish, frankly, that I was joining you. Good luck – and don’t forget the Alka-Seltzer.

Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
people'When I see people who look totally different, it brings me back to that time in my life'
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
news
News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
A photograph taken by David Redferm of Sonny Rollins
people
News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Extras
indybest
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Nursery Nurse

£7 - £8 per hour: Randstad Education Leeds: Nursery Nurse Leeds November start...

EBD LSA required - Vale of Glamorgan

£60 - £65 per day + plus free travel scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The J...

EBD Teacher - Food Technology Specialist

£100 - £181 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: The JobTo plan and deliver all ...

Learning Support Assistant

£50 - £60 per day + plus free travel scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The J...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker