It’s not wrong to ask what university is actually for, is it? As a soon to be graduate, it almost seems expected to find myself questioning what I have been doing for the last three years. Admittedly, a lot of all-nighters and sleep, but more importantly, I am pondering as to what I’ve actually learnt in my time as a student.
I’ve had a flick through all my old notes, essay papers, and emails and amidst it all, I am struggling to find that hallmark which encapsulates what it means to be a student and a humanities one at that. I am not necessarily taking a stab at the content of my degree, rather I am querying its usefulness, and how I can apply what I’ve been taught into my daily activities. No doubt there are many modules, books, and ideas that will stay with me for some time to come, but my question is, what is the practical value of obtaining a degree and should there even be one?
I am pondering as to what I’ve actually learnt in my time as a student.
For example, a recent court ruling in Sweden favoured a student’s argument that her education had ‘no practical value’ and ordered her university to repay her tuition fees. Connie Asenback, an American business student who studied analytical finance at Mälardalen University is said to receive £14,000 back in compensation plus interest for a ‘sub standard degree’. The ruling comes in conjunction with further complaints made in 2013 by Sweden’s Higher Education Authority about that specific programme.
On first sight, one would be inclined to agree that if you pay for a service, you should receive the utmost best from that service. And by that right, you should demand back whatever you invested if the service was not what you expected. It’s inherently greedy and insulting to expect a steep contribution from students, who haven’t even entered a job market yet and give tuppence back — no doubt many other students are similar positions to Asenback. I myself have studied modules that frankly were appalling in so far the seminars and lectures did not challenge me in any way, nor did they capture my real interest. Even with requests for feedback for improvement, little care was given to my concerns. If we look at it institutionally, I am one of many; I am just a number, yet my future matters just as much as the next person. It seems almost benign to come to a place to learn new things and yet feel as though you’re regurgitating ideas from A-Level study.
If we look at it institutionally, I am one of many; I am just a number, yet my future matters just as much as the next person.
Although my first instinct would not be to take the university to court, I do wonder how many students are also feeling less than thrilled about their modules and have no legal/moral/financial support in airing their concerns. Moreover, it highlights the issue in paying for education in the first place, in a job market that is less than accommodating to graduate students. A recent study suggested that an estimated 58.8% of graduates have entered into non-graduate jobs; many deciding to go into hospitality or voluntary roles. Parallel this with a debate on Britain’s status in the EU, and students educational and job prospects seems less and less safeguarded.
Asenback’s case is unlike anything I’ve encountered thus far, but does go to show that students should demand more out of their education. When you take into account that more and more countries are scrapping tuition fees altogether, what role should money play in regards to education, and does a higher fee always equal to a higher level of teaching? If you’re paying to learn, what does that say about the value of knowledge? That it can only be bought? With the threat of more primary and secondary schools becoming academies, and funding for public libraries steadily being cut or privatised, a clear message is being sent out to children from a young age — that if they want to learn, it will cost them.
If you’re paying to learn, what does that say about the value of knowledge? That it can only be bought?
If this is the case, students ought to have a say in what they expect from their education. It is a two-way street, in that regard, and outlines the level of accountability that often goes missing in large scale institutions, where it’s easier to see students as numbers/statistics and not individuals with varying prospective paths.
Although it’s beautiful to believe that education should be for educations sake, when you monetise its production, it almost seems inescapable that there be a practical, money-making goal at the end of it and not the pleasure of enriching oneself.
Featured image © LA Johnson / NPR