Harriet on: is university the be all and end all?

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Shadow Education Secretary Andy Burnham spoke on 10 O’Clock Live last week (watch on 4OD) about the need to highlight other ways to get into work other than uni. Now, I’m not saying I agree with all of what he said on the show or showing off my political views here, but that part of his argument resonated with me.

Especially in the kind of school I went to (a grammar school if anyone is asking the question), it was just a given that you’d go to uni. But why are we not looking at other ways of getting kids into the kind of work they want to do? Why is uni the be all and end all, something that children are expected to take part in. Again, I’m not saying that uni isn’t a great place for people to go. People like doctors etc really couldn’t do their jobs without having had the kind of experiences and knowledge that university provides. But then if you can go out and get experience in the ‘real world’ that provides you with the kind of skills you need to get the job you want (and you have no particular inclination to go to uni) then why not go down a different path?

Okay I might be biased because I didn’t go – but then again I’m certainly not against them and am completely aware that they’re a brilliant way to get a hell of a lot of people into a career. But all I’m saying is we need to look at ways of engaging young people, getting them to have dreams and, more importantly, educating them on how to achieve those goals. And not every kid is going to want to go to uni. So why should every kid HAVE to go to uni just because that’s become the status quo in our society?

What we need to see are the options laid out to students from an early age in a clear, concise and unbiased way. It’s no good saying: ‘There’s option A and that’s really brilliant and oh great you’ll be earning loads and you’ll have so much fun and it’s really great. Oh and Options B, C, D, E and F. But look at Option A, isn’t Option A so much fun. Isn’t Option A fab.’

At times I’ve been made to feel so inferior because I haven’t got a couple of letters after my name but the point I try to get across to people is, especially in the job that I wanted to get into, it’s not necessarily a degree that’s important – it’s a course that you don’t have to go to uni to do. And some jobs simply do not need to be validated with a piece of paper.

But if you have achieved something with your life and you HAVE got somewhere without going to uni then I think you need to hold your head up high, be proud to just be plain old Harriet with no letters and, most importantly, spread the word that not choosing uni does not equate to choosing failure.

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