This week the Telegraph reports how the UCAS Chief Executive has commented, during a meeting of the International Baccalaureate School and Colleges Association, that university is “often wasted on teenagers”.
Whilst the comments of Mary Curnock Cook may initially seem shocking, particularly given her job role, the full context to the story, which can be read here, reveals a legitimate concern for the significant number of students – around one in fifteen undergraduates – who fail to make it through even their first year of university due often to the fact that they are picking unsuitable courses and “sleepwalking” their way onto degrees.
This raises some serious questions for our profession. Is it, as Ms Curnock Cook suggests, a ‘good thing’ that the £9,000 tuition fees are causing students to pause and think, and really question the motivations behind their university applications? And how plausible is it for older students in their 20s, 30s or 40s to only then consider starting university when they may already have the financial commitments of mortgages and/or families? Obviously we can’t predict at what age an individual is going to be at the right point in their career thinking and self-awareness to make the correct decisions about their futures. But is there an argument to say that someone in their early 20’s, with a bit more experience of the world of work and some time to reflect on it, but without the financial restrictions that come with another few years, would be more likely to make better university choices?
As we will know, part of the answer here comes from appropriate guidance and in the current climate we know that not all students are getting this. But with the increasing competitiveness of the graduate job market it does seem that students are being forced to decide earlier and earlier as to which career they want to follow and this could be counter-productive in the long run.