So, Peter Mandelson has announced that universities will face cuts in funding of £135 million next year.
It would be easy to parrot some of the outcries already made in the media, but it should be said that the news isn’t especially surprising. Everyone knew the Government would make cuts, and put simply, university funding is an obvious place to make those cuts.
Despite the falling value of degrees and rising the costs of paying for them, more and more students are entering further education, only to graduate saddled in debt, with qualifications of questionable worth.
With the number of university entrants rising consistently – regardless, it seems, of the cost to worth ratio of university education – the Government are probably justified in assuming that larger class sizes and fewer teachers are unlikely to deter students from university. Frequently, students have little or no idea of what education they can expect to receive for the ever-increasing fees they pay, what skills they can reasonably hope to learn or improve on, and what their employment prospects are likely to be at the end of their degrees.
Instead, these students graduate with the expectation of entering glamorous and interesting careers, only to find themselves indistinguishable from the countless others applying for the most coveted jobs.
It comes as a genuine shock to many that rather than enter into the dream careers they’d envisaged, it can prove difficult to enter into any kind of employment at all.
So what can be done? Most students appreciate their degrees are not going to ensure employment once they’ve graduated, but it would be useful if universities ran compulsory modules aimed at improving skills that would bolster employment opportunities. At the very least, graduates should be able to write to a reasonable level and should be proficient in Microsoft Office. But more than that, graduates should be taught to know what employers are looking for and what they expect. It proves a dispiriting realisation for many students that university holidays spent working at the local pub might have been better spent on unpaid internships.
In any event, students should graduate having some idea of what awaits them in the job market – for better or for worse. If the Government is to encourage such a large proportion of students to go to university at a greater cost than ever before, it should at least make sure that graduates are gaining something tangible for their time and money.