The 'Widening Participation' column aims to bring the views of people outside Imperial to Live! This time, Chris Mullan from KCL responds to the recent comments by the NUS President. Chris is a Trustee of KCLSU and an NUS delegate. He started his studies at UMIST (Imperial of the north) before coming down to KCL. He has drunk all the single malts in the ICU bar. This article originally appeared on his blog "Activism vs Apathy".
This article expresses solely his personal views, and is not presented in his capacity as a Trustee.
It is clear from the recent NUS press release on graduate unemployment that even Gemma Tumelty is beginning to grasp the fact people shouldn't take the commitment of taking several years and several thousand pounds to work for a degree lightly. She identifies the problems arising from selling the idea of a degree, any degree, as a ticket to the highly paid job of their dreams. I'm quite sure that this has never been the case, most intelligent people have always known degrees are merely a way to get your 'foot in the door', to get a chance to show you can do well in the world of work.
If the NUS claims some kind of leadership on behalf of students, it has a duty to also lead students. It has a duty to inform its potential (those considering HE) and current members of the hard truths, and not to continue to propagate the fairy-tale of guaranteed success. Implicit in her statement is also the idea that all degrees, from all institutions have the same market value.
For those that think this 'market value' is some evil right wing imperialist conspiracy, I point you firmly in the direction of your UCAS application. If there were no market, then we would be allocated university and course by lottery. The fact is universities ask for, and students work toward obtaining, the qualifications the university thinks are required to have a good chance of completing and succeeding on a particular course. There is an implicit market insofar as my physics A-Level is valued for say, a physics, chemistry, or maths degree, but would most likely not be valued if I wanted to study English literature. Look at General Studies! If all A-Levels were equal, why would so many institutions state explicitly that they will not take General Studies into account when making offers? If all qualifications are equal, where is the outrage?
If I ever graduate, my degree will have a different value to someone who managed to get the same degree in the 3 years it is supposed to take. In the same way, my degree in the market place of media industry graduate jobs is far less valuable than that of a media/arts degree from nearly anywhere else. To ignore the fact giving someone a graduate job is a big financial gamble, and that it makes sense to interfere where employers make their own judgments, is populist tabloid politicking at its basest.
I am also concerned that Gemma, with all her years in the coddled world of being a sabbatical, has lost touch with the reality that pretty much EVERY graduate fails to get their 'ideal' job straight away, upon graduation. Heck, I still have no idea what my 'ideal' job would be. I'm disappointed that our figurehead for students nationally is happy with empty sound bites rather than engaged intelligent comment.
If Gemma considers those of us who have worked hard to get good A-Levels and turned that hard work into a place at a university whose qualifications are valued, 'privileged', then she is happy to insult the thousands of exceptional people who have the grit or intelligence to succeed in so called 'bog-standard' comprehensives. If it is upsetting that universities seem to have lots of public school pupils, because they have received a better education resulting in higher grades, then why is she not using her assumed leadership to fight for those of us who were 'handicapped' by not getting such an education. Where is the campaign to improve education for the many?
Thankfully, we do not yet live in a communist utopia, so the government limits its interference with the operations of businesses, but imagine how quickly we would lose all semblance of competitiveness if companies had to meet quotas of students from former polys, or quotas of people with thirds. A degree symbolises hard work, learning, and achievement, and it would de-value still further the degree for it simply to be a ticket to the next round of social engineering.
Would Gemma be happy being operated on by the graduate of Leeds Medical School, who got a 40% (according to The Times, the bottom of the medicine league table)? Would she put her life in the hands of someone who only just got through with the minimum of knowledge to pass (I accept medicine is a tricky one because the initial requirements are so very high)?
Why is the NUS not taking a lead in educating those considering University, so that before they take the plunge, they are made aware of the risks, the work, and the cost? Why is the NUS leaving quite frankly ludicrous myths about where a degree will take you unchecked by reality? Why is it shirking its responsibility to lead students?
With no re-election to seek, I had hoped Gemma might finally start being a bit more adult and honest in her representation to and for students.