So @hannahs_a_man posted this up yesterday...
And it's caused a swell of support which is nice to see, including this tweet...
I must say I'm extremely conflicted.
For a start, until it's too late to choose your path you generally don't know what's best for you. The whole nature of being a child is that you not only need direction, you seek it. The problem is not the parent that thinks they should push you to university, but that the system is inherently flawed when it comes to managing the realisations of people when they get what may well be their first taste of truly independent living and the soul searching that can result.
Of course the message that you shouldn't feel guilty about not following through on your parents (or peers) ideas of what is best is entirely right. When you're starting to take control of your life, probably starting around puberty for most, we should be happy that adolescents want to strike out their own path and encourage that rather than limit it.
But wouldn't it be nice if we could, as parents, guardians, peers, say that everyone should aim for higher education, and have systems in place that allow for interchangeability between the academic university route, and more applied apprenticeships and internships.
Hannah's predicament is interesting to me as I would actually say that staying at university while pursuing an internship makes sense. Hannah says herself that internship opportunities aren't well paid, so why not use the cheap(er) accomodation, within an environment of somewhat similar peers, and the buffer of a student loan to provide the platform for that to happen?
Wouldn't universities themselves as institutions work better if they were decoupled from a solely academic route and provided support for this kind of option too...a kind of "apprenticeship-lite" that allowed for a lower level of academic study to supplement ongoing work-experience that'll be more useful at the end of any "course"?
We can't begrudge people that take a view on what might be best for their children, though we can certainly try and educate them that they need to adapt their advice based on how their kid is forming their desires and wishes. What we can begrudge is a system that tries to tread the line of rounded "just in case" education while wanting students to ultimately take a "major" and pick their future life course without real-world experience to guide their choices.
What would be great is if Hannah and those like her were aided more to specialise earlier, to learn more about what they want from life and their career aspirations...but that educational policy existed as such in this country that if they worked out they'd chosen wrong that there was a flexible, cheap and available way to reskill/reeducate and move on quickly.
I guess I should clarify what I mean by this more flexible route. Some have said that a lot of universities that started out as "polys" should go back to what they were, in that they were more about "applied education" rather than purely academic. I'd say that as long as they had the ability to retain their right to award their own degrees then maybe it'd be a good differentiation for those that know that they want to do a purely academic or traditional subject (Law, Medicine perhaps?) and those that are going for a field that'll benefit from a more "hands on" experience.
But I tend to think more broadly than this. Imagine if there were 1000 people that all wanted to get a degree in computer science (the degree I took). Some might be looking to go through this in a 100% education capacity, to learn all of the theory and the skills that could be used. They might be comfortable and enjoy that. Others may benefit from a more practical and specific area of the subject, while others would most certainly benefit from being able to spend the vast majority of their time in work placements and providing dissertations on their work, ideally with the institutions in partnership with the university so that specific areas of the subject could be guaranteed to be approached in some way.
More importantly, people should be able to pick a point where they change their approach. Do they feel that they're simply not getting information that'll be relevant to them after a year of taking the academic approach? These institutions need the structures in place that they can translate equivalent success between these different approaches, that people can still achieve degrees despite choosing to move to a much more vocational study of the subject.
There will always be exceptions. Plumbers aren't ever going to be able to follow a pure academic route for their field, and it's hard to see how a mathematical theorist would ever find a hands-on route to follow.
Universities already tend to have it covered if people realise that they have chosen the wrong subject, however they do tend to do this by constructing complex and varied arrays of different sections of subjects, and this seems to me to be something that exacerbates confusion rather than helps to stop it. Some subjects aside, it's not as if it even matters what the course is you've got your first or 2:1 in anyway, not as much as it matters that the university has deemed you to be a master of a subject enough to get those grades.
This brings on other questions of course. Does it matter that you have a grade or not in the first place? From a personal perspective, probably not...it's what you feel you now understand about the world and yourself. From an employer point of view it is useful to gauge commitment and ability...but does this even need to be tied to a specific subject outside of certain exceptions? Could a general HE diploma for all not indicate this general ability to be proactive and have the ability to learn and adapt on a broad range of subjects?
My thoughts on this aren't well formed, and would definitely benefit from further discussion...what I do know is the main problem that made me want to write this, and that is that we can't keep going on acting like students have 100% certain knowledge about what they want to do at 18, and give them an inflexible HE structure that causes consternation and stress when those who aren't 100% find they need to change their course in life.