In defence of a university education

Students, reckons Charley Utton, come in for an awful lot of unfair criticism. And with the 'value' of degrees under the microscope more than ever, he believes it's time to come out in defence of a university education

“So, you want to go to university eh?” asked my Grandad as he settled into his favourite armchair, “I never went to university, and look at all I’ve got!” he said, triumphantly pointing through the window towards the Ford Escort parked on the drive.

I admire my Grandad, and his Ford Escort. He’s worked his entire life and successfully raised the decent, stable family that I fortunately belong to. It nevertheless irritates me when he launches into one of his rants about the futility of my tenure as a student. What irritates me more, though, is when I encounter his same, somewhat misguided views bursting from the lips of friends who left school at 16, and flowing from the fingers of internet revolutionaries.

Over the last couple of years it appears as though there’s been a growth in unjust criticism angled towards students, both in terms of their perceived lifestyles and their choice to go to university in the first place. There are some common arguments in this pattern of disapproval, which are either partially or fundamentally misplaced.

'A degree doesn’t usually earn you a better job, I don’t have a degree and I earn a shedload'

If you’ve got a successful career without ever having gone to university then that’s fantastic, really. Success should be celebrated. However, if you consider the wider context, this statement is not entirely defensible. It is estimated that on average, university graduates will earn around £100,000 more over their lifetimes than those who left school after A-levels. Additionally, the average starting salary for a graduate is now £26,000, which is almost bang on the national average salary for all ages.

'Look at the number of graduates unemployed or in low-end jobs, they could have done that without uni'

Beyond a purely economic perspective on life, and given that the above glosses over contrasts between different degree courses anyway, it’s worth considering the value of an education for education’s sake. It’s important not to lose sight of the foundational purpose of universities, institutions where people can learn about the world and everything inside, outside, above and below it.

Of course a great deal of what a person will learn during their life will come from experiences outside of university, but nowhere else is there such a wealth of information and such a community of inspired individuals who want to share it with each other. The pursuit and exploration of knowledge is what gives many people’s lives meaning and purpose, far beyond ‘getting a good job’ and earning more money than is necessary to live on. Many, though, not all.

To be sure, the number of young people who are unemployed sixmonths or a year after graduating is shocking and definitely a cause for concern. There are myriad factors that contribute to this problem though, and unemployment is rife in pretty much every demographic at present. Time might be better spent arguing against the economic policy of our current government, whose view, arguably, is that unemployment is a necessary evil in the path to efficiency and growth.

'Students are a bunch of drunken louts with no regard for their local surroundings or community'

Some students do no favours for the reputation of the student body. The antics of drinking societies over-enthusiastic student protesters, and regular drunken scenes outside student bars make the above opinion understandable. However, this is without a doubt a case of the few spoiling it for the many.

Sure, some students act obnoxiously after a couple of drinks, but then couldn’t the same be said for people student-age in general? Or even just people in general? Perhaps the problem here is that students are perceived as a collectivity entirely separate from ‘normal’ people, who are all bound to behave in a manner informed not by their individual personalities, but by their choice to study at university instead.

Students are getting a free ride, and cost the government millions. The right to education ends once you finish your A-levels

First and perhaps most obviously, higher education students pay for their education. While there are grants available for some students, the vast majority of UK students will now be paying around £9,000 a year in order to study. Of course this usually comes in the form of a loan, however they start paying that loan back as soon as they’re earning over £21,000 a year; £5,000 under the average graduate starting salary.

Of course the government does spend money on universities, but the amount they spend is completely dwarfed by the amount of money that universities contribute to the economy. A study by Universities UK suggested that in 2008 alone, universities contributed over £33bn to the UK’s GDP.

When I try to explain these things to my Grandad, he usually falls asleep, or cuts me off and introduces the immeasurably more pressing issue of what flavour tobacco he’s going to smoke today. It doesn’t bother me too much; I’ve learnt to accept his ways. It does concern me though seeing others adopt his stance.

A university education is not for everyone, but for those who can draw on its benefits, it is a privilege; one that we should not squander or denigrate. Across the globe our universities are looked upon with awe and envy, yet many inside the UK insist on denying their importance. We mustn’t forget how lucky we are to have them and how valuable their contributions can be to our lives.

Charley is a second year International Relations student at Plymouth University, follow him on Twitter here.

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Recruitment Genius: Graduate / Trainee Sales Executive

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate/Trainee Sales Executive is re...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Graphic Designer - Peterborough - £18,000

£22000 - £23000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Graphic Designer...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Developer - Cambridgeshire - £23,000

£22000 - £23000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Front-End Develo...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?