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.

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Drama Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Liverpool: We are looking for someone who can t...

Science Teacher

£110 - £135 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Sc...

Teacher

£120 - £131 per day: Randstad Education Group: The role will involve teaching...

Drama & Media Studies Teacher

£110 - £135 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Dr...

Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice