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Jon Kennard


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The first day of your adult life?


Ah, A Level results day. I remember it like it was 17 years ago.

It was a sunny day in August 1996 (nostalgia is rain-proof, of course) and a few of us drove to St Brendan's 6th Form College in south Bristol to pick up our A Level results, equal parts teenage insouciance and childlike anticipation.

I remember opening the envelope, seeing three As, feeling my heart skip a beat - and then realising that I was looking at the 'Level' column and not the 'Results' column. And on that basis, I didn't deserve three As for my momentary stupidity. I got three Cs, which while decent enough, was below what I was predicted. I only got into Imperial College, my chosen university, because I had my offer dropped after a good interview. And all the while I took this privilege for granted, it was just what was happening around me, it was just what you did after school, it was a natural progression of teenage life and education. Of course, I screwed everything up once I got there. I left after one year, went through clearing and switched to a different university, completely different course, and gave that a crack. I left there after a year too.

It took me a good few years to come to terms with this failure, and while the majority of the responsibility lies with me and my lack of application, there is nevertheless a part of me that believes the university system is not 'fit for purpose'. Perhaps it never was. Without resorting to Myers-Briggs or similar tools (see these articles for more info, and a heated debate in the comments too), I do believe that the university system as it exists is not for everyone. Note the lack of quote marks - I don't mean at an intellectual level. I think that for many (myself included) you don't know who you want to be at 18. I didn't know what I wanted to do, and I certainly wasn't ready to spend yet more time in the classroom. I found my abilities and I got my drive from working in industry, from making my own opportunities. I could have benefitted from going back to study at 25 or 26, and I might have had some money to pay for it too. Or I might not have bothered (I didn't) and have been happy with the skills I had acquired thus far.

One of the positive (but unfortunate) side effects of Gove et al's strategy of pricing more and more people out of university is that young people are forced to look elsewhere for routes into business. This is not how it should have been. The government and UCAS's declaration today that 'more young people than ever are going to get their first choice university place' is surely only because fewer people are applying. And this trend probably won't be reversed for a while yet.

You'd think I'm correcting myself, but I'm not, and the reason is this. If you're going to price young people out of higher education institutions (bad), forcing them to look at other options such as corporate universities or apprenticeships (good), then you have to make these options more obvious to the kids, which to its credit the governement is doing, and reward businesses for using these other avenues for recruitment, which again to its credit the government is also doing. However, I think that when you take a step back, look at the situation and have a think about the impact on various different social groups, it's clear this is just a good old-fashioned ring-fencing exercise, trying to weed out the poorer, lower classes and their perceived lack of intellect. So how can we change this situation?

An essential component of our future workforce is not only to let people know of all the options when leaving school, but also to ram the point home to businesses at the very highest level that university isn't the be all and end all, that your future CEO might not be a member of a tie club.

2 Responses

  1. Teachers

    From my perspective, a major problem is the advice children get at that age. My children are bombarded with information about university as soon as they hit secondary school and there is always an unspoken 'truth' from teachers that anything other than university is second best. Teachers are usually from universities rather than the work your way up in business so they preach what they know.

  2. In my experience it is often

    In my experience it is often the case that graduates have to join companies on an entry level basis.  As large organisations outsource recruitement to agencies they are starting at the same level as people with maybe a 6 months experience working in a shop or a Call Centre.  If i could go back and have a word with my 16 year old self, i'd say.  Learn a trade or get a job as a salesman in a call centre.

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Jon Kennard

Freelance writer

Read more from Jon Kennard

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