Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.

Student Life

Wot I learned at university

Graduation is a time for introspective leavers to take stock of all they've learned from their time at university. For James Ashford, it didn't take all that long

In a few weeks time I’ll be graduating from university. There will be a ceremony and clapping and everyone will probably chuck their hats at each other, because that’s what you’re meant to do at those sorts of occasions. There will be some vulgar parents who will give their children vulgar sums of money, and there’ll be other people who are happy enough to walk away with a degree.

Nevertheless, behind the smiles and gowns, there will be a significant number of students wondering whether they could have made more of their three years. Apart from a 2:1 and thousands of pounds of debt, it’s really not clear what we’re getting out of the deal. There are a few possibilities:

Financial responsibility

Oscar Wilde once said: ‘Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination’, which while being tremendously poetic, partly explains why he died in absolute poverty.

Students always complain about having no money, the majority being completely penniless most of the time. What I noticed, through my own financial flippancy, was that every time I ran out of money, it was entirely my fault. The reasons students never have any money is because they spend it on things they don’t need, and getting drunk. This self-inflicted poverty is rather different to not having any money because you’re the head of a large family of hungry children.

Seeing as even the most overworked of students only have about four minutes of contact time a week, there’s no excuse for not getting a job. In my first week at uni, I was scouted by Hollister for the incredibly serious and challenging role of standing in a dark clothes shop pretending to be cool. After going through subsequent interviews, accepting the job, and watching training videos showing me how to not steal the clothes, I decided saying ‘What’s up’ to arseholes wasn’t the career for me and bailed before I could do any real work.

Improved time management

There were a few weeks in third year when I seriously began to doubt my own abilities as a confidence trickster. Having blagged my way up the ladder of education, the unpleasant thought struck me that perhaps there is a limit to how much one can coast before they grind to a halt.

Luckily, it turns out that even at degree level, you can basically leave everything to the last minute. Not everyone will do this of course, but realistically the majority do. The attitude you’ve had throughout your education will probably be the attitude with which you approach your university work, no matter how many times you tell yourself different. Luckily, the results are similarly consistent, and you will go almost certainly go on reaping the same undeserved achievement you always have. Rejoice, you lazy bastard.


Everyone always says that at university, you’ll have the best time of your life and meet friends you’ll keep forever. I’m banking on the first bit being a load of bollocks, but I can grudgingly accept that there are a handful of people I don’t entirely want to escape. What started off as a shared interest in beer bongs and public urination has evolved through various stages: middle-class Rastafarianism, surviving winter in our moulding house, girlfriends, breakups, bodybuilding, and ultimately, brotherhood.

Cultural enrichment

This one really only applies to arts students. BEng and Bsc types might be able to build you a bridge or heart valve, but ask them to give a summary of Metaphysics Zeta and they haven't got a clue.

Even if you generally take an alarmingly lackadaisical approach to your work, you can’t help but get into some of it. Unless you go to Sheffield Hallam, the fact that you’re at university at all shows that you have a basic capacity for learning, and that means you’re going to find bits of your course interesting.

Unless you do a vocational degree, the knowledge you gain over three years is never going to come up in a practical situation. The mistake that a plethora of morons and/or cabinet ministers make is to assume that an academic degree is therefore irrelevant and useless. Education is valuable for education’s sake, it’s one of the few things left that is worth being seen as an end in itself and not a means to an end.

Overall, going to university is just about worth it. There’s a vague transition into adulthood, a slight widening of the mind and the opportunity to spend your time doing absolutely anything you like. Unfortunately, most people only appreciate that opportunity when it’s coming to an end. Very few spend their time doing something truly productive, like writing droll student articles for the Independent.

James Ashford has somehow managed to acquire a degree in Philosophy from the University of Sheffield. He blogs, wittily if you squint, here.