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.

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

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Software Developer

£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Software Developer i...

AER Teachers: Graduate Primary TA - West London - Autumn

£65 - £75 per day + competitive rates: AER Teachers: The school is seeking gra...

AER Teachers: Graduate Secondary TA - West London

£65 - £75 per day + competitive rates: AER Teachers: The school is seeking gra...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Developer - Surrey - £25,000

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Graduate Developer - Croy...

Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent