Does university prepare you for the workplace?


Labour Party leader Ed Milliband has recently called for us to reject the snobbery that says university is the the key to success.


By Ryan Walters

Slumped in the lecture theatre on a blistery Monday morning at Loughborough University I was left puzzled by the subject being taught.

Instead of exploring volcanic activity, tectonic mobility and earth system science – as might be expected from a Geography degree – I was presented with the concept of basic statistics; the mean, median, mode and range.

Judging from the lack of concentration from those around me I was not the only one struggling.

It was not what I had foreseen but ultimately I was there to earn a degree to improve my employability prospects.

Last week Labour Party leader Ed Milliband called for us to reject the snobbery that says the only route to social mobility is through university.

Milliband wants better opportunities to those who don’t attend university.

It’s not all rosy either for those starting university this year, according to Education Secretary Michael Gove.

Gove raised concerns over the preparedness of students heading towards higher education and suggested universities themselves should set A-Level exams.

Sarah Wrixon, creator of career website Uni’s Not For Me, is campaigning for our government to re-evaluate our A-Level system.

“The current education system is doing young people – and society – a huge disservice by so crassly valuing credentials over character,” Mrs Wrixon explained.

“It seems to have failed entirely in its core purpose, which should be to prepare young people to contribute to the country’s capital – whether financial, social or intellectual.

“Instead it has created a sense of entitlement and a belief that their strings of A-stars and first class degrees have made them all completely brilliant, but most have little idea of how the workplace really operates.”

Her daughter and co-founder of the website, 17-year-old Hattie, opted to leave school after her first year of A-Levels.

 “I struggled to understand how my A-Levels in Classics, English Literature and Spanish, would support me in the workplace,” said Hattie.

Although a career path was unclear, Hattie knew any venture would not require a degree in the same way a job in medicine, for example, would.

Hattie now attends Victoria-based Quest Professional; a college specialising in business training and preparing young adults from GCSE level upwards for the workplace.

“To me the course makes more sense than A-Levels ever did,” she said.

“University is not the only path to success. There are more options out there; you just have to be brave enough to look for them.”

Speaking to Wimbledon High School A-Level students about their future plans and views on higher education, the perceived importance of a degree was clear to see.

With the current job market about as hospitable as a desert wasteland I wanted to understand what they felt was crucial to ensuring success after school.

“I still think it is very relevant to have qualifications such as A-Levels, yet perhaps the more you have, the better your CV becomes,” said 18-year-old Kate O’Boyle, studying English, Geography, and Art.

“I also think experience plays a major part when applying for a job.”

Jennifer Ubah, 18, who is studying Economics, Maths, and Theatre Studies, also agreed qualifications are vital to securing a job but criticised the effectiveness of the A-Level syllabus.

“Exams do not define you and your potential skills – they are more about knowing how to please the examiner so you can get good grades,” said Jennifer.

“Unfortunately now if you are without A-Levels or a degree, it dampens your chances of having a successful career later in life.”

So what can be done to ensure students are better prepared for life outside of classrooms?

For Mrs Wrixon it starts with a school’s understanding of their students, as opposed to exam results and league tables.

“Currently the only measure of a school’s performance is its ability to deliver good exam grades, so understandably schools feel pressured into focusing only on the children they think will deliver top grades and high-flying university places,” said Mrs Wrixon.

“Many teacher friends tell me they are fed up of ‘teaching to the test’, and wish they had more flexibility to inspire young minds rather than simply process them.

“I think we need a far more balanced curriculum that supports the whole person – mind, body and soul – and, importantly, that is also assessed on that basis.”

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