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Nelson Mandela famously quoted; Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world Walsh, 1996. Mandela meant education in a broad sense; its not thought to be gained solely from reading or sitting in classrooms and cannot be half-heartedly undertaken. Essentially, it's associated with life and development, shaping the future to produce a righteous, democratic society (Walsh, 1996). This assignment aims to explore the evolution of university education and highlight how current economic and political climates have affected the higher education experience.
John Stuart Mill, a philosopher dating back to the 1800s, suggested that higher education was to be provided as a 'public good' to benefit the whole community with social aspects being undeniably of greater importance than a high flying career (Phippen, 2012). Needless to say, the educational system has drastically changed in modern society. Today there is an expectation that young people will gain a degree, whereas in the past degrees weren't as heavily sought after. Changes within the non-market aspect of society namely, social, political and legal factors, such as technological advances and change in government, are a contributing factor to the educational system changes (Phippen, 2012).
Liberalism is thought to be replacing public good with the concept of 'individual responsibility' which has been argued in practice to provide superior cumulative public good (Phippen, 2012). Liberalism was primarily identified through the writings of Adam Smith (1776) which eradicated government involvement in economic matters and therefore promoted 'free trade' (Martinez and Garcia, n.d.). The policy of free trade induces the debate as to whether the public and government should contribute to the funding of universities if the outcome is solely personal gain for the student in terms of potential greater job prospects, with the public not receiving the return on investment they expect (Phippen, 2012).
Neoliberalism, 'New Liberalism', has been revived over the last 25 years with the rapid globalization of the capitalist economy, shifting control from the public sector to the private sector with strong support from organisations such as the IMF and World Bank (Martinez and Garcia, n.d.). Neoliberalism policies can be clearly observed in today's society with signs that the wealthy grow wealthier and the poor grow increasingly poorer, highlighting morality issues such as equality (Martinez and Garcia, n.d.)(Phippen, 2012). With the present increase in university fees in England there is a strong possibility that, in the future, only those coming from wealthy backgrounds will be able to afford higher education.
The 'University' stigma has changed rapidly and is continually developing in terms of organisational structure, core principles and objectives (Scott, 2012). Increasingly, universities are starting to see themselves as corporate organisations with corporate values; encouraging systematic management approaches (Scott, 2012). This change in bottom line structure could improve institution's finances and operations, providing a "stronger focus on high quality teaching" (David Willets cited by Coughlan, 2010). On the other hand, due to increasing accountability pressures and the tension between intrinsic autonomy and the changed nature of modern university, 'critical enquiry' and 'academic freedom' could be removed from the modern educational structure (Scott, 2012).
Higher education is increasingly becoming one of the most highly debated topics within today's coalition government (Key Note, 2011). Policies recently implemented have cut educational grants for further study institutions in England in an attempt to aid economic recovery (Key Note, 2011). This retraction of support has placed the £9000 a year financial burden solely on the student, enabling universities to replace a large part of lost state funding (Coughlan, 2010). He reports that in turn, students will increasingly demand to be treated as valued customers in terms of the quality they receive. There is great national and indeed international interest in the rapidly changing educational structure due to the increasing number of students from abroad seeking education in England (Key note, 2011). Controversially, the Welsh government has absorbed these fee increases for Welsh students sustaining the mix of public and private funding (BBC News, 2011) and in an extreme contrast, Scottish and EU students currently have no fees to pay at all if remaining in their respective country (BBC News, 2012).
International students studying in the UK and other foreign institutions have an influential presence in the higher education system both financially and economically (Richards, 2012). With increasingly more UK graduates seeking employment abroad, competition to attract the biggest brains has become an integral part of university marketing (Richards, 2012). Mazzarol and Soutar (2002) claim that international students are facing what's been suggested as a push pull model. They say that through cultural attitudes in India and Asia, education is seen to be a way of raising economic and social status which is thought to 'push' students to study abroad in more educationally accessible countries. The pull factor comes from global competition between host countries and more narrowly institutional competition in terms of their marketing approach to attract foreign students (Mazzarol and Soutar, 2002). With the UK being seen as a diverse, tolerant society and international students desiring more knowledge of western cultures, government involvement is essential to ensure that educational quality is maintained (Kelly, 2011). Million+ (2013) state that international students contribute £4.2bn to the UK economy each year; loss of this revenue could have detrimental effects on society.
Often throughout education, students are told that gaining a degree will lead to a good job (Mckay, 2012). The Mail online (2011) has stated that increasingly universities are implementing 'Mickey Mouse' degrees which do not have substantial bearing in the coalition market. Staffordshire University has been reported to offer David Beckham studies leading to debates suggesting that the lack of societal contribution of such courses, including cinematics, photography and media studies, should not be aided by government funding and public tax (Mail Online, 2011). The argument advocates that an apprenticeship which enhances practical skills would be of greater benefit. To promote economic recovery, today's coalition government seek to provide 400,000 apprenticeship jobs by 2014-15, an increase from 2011's 279,900 opportunities (Mail Online, 2011). The justification of this alternative option has been highlighted through 'real-life' success examples such as Richard Branson, who acquired only one O-Level (Mail Online, 2011).
With university operations and the funding of higher education being at the forefront of media and political attention recently, questions are raised regarding whether the increase in fees match potential gains in order to make university a worthwhile investment. Graduates are finding it increasingly difficult to get onto the 'employment ladder' and figures show that more than half of new university students will still be paying off debts into their 50's (The Telegraph, 2012).
Interestingly, HEPI (Higher Education Policy Institute) have forecasted that the current £9000 fees are not sustainable and will ultimately force the higher education system to become a polarised sector (Sellgren, 2011). The article forecasts that total student figures will decrease by at least 8% each year, with Million + (2013) reporting the undesirable implications of this decrease on the British economy. The treasury gains £94k per graduate and furthermore graduates can theoretically command higher wages which would increase tax revenue to the exchequer, creating long term societal benefits (Million +, 2013).
Groves (2012) stated that the National Union of Students has attributed the proliferation of increasing student suicides to financial pressures. Since the start of the recession in 2007, Male suicides have increased by 36% and females almost twofold (Groves, 2012). This has led to a great demand for an increase in the support of students and indeed graduates searching for jobs (Groves, 2012). Academic pressures and worsening job prospects are also thought to be a contributing factor and a recent BMJ study connected lower employment levels to higher suicide rates (Groves, 2012).
But hope could be on the horizon. BBC News (2012) have announced that unemployment rates have decreased by 49,000 from September to November 2012 with the ONS claiming that the majority of this was due to the decline in 'youth' unemployment which could be the start of positive prospects for graduates. This sign of possible economic recovery could be disputed as the decrease has been attributed to more people accepting part time work, with record numbers doing so as they are unable to find full time work (BBC News, 2012).
Increasingly more and more graduates are seeking employment in a more favourable environment overseas (Daily Mail, 2011). Some say that the UK are failing its graduates in the sense of retention after it emerged that nearly two thirds were unable to find degree level employment upon graduating (Daily Mail, 2011). This drive in graduates pursuing career ambitions overseas could further increase Britain's economic problems (Daily Mail, 2011). With limited numbers of opportunities within the current economy employers are starting to look for more than just a degree (Daily Mail, 2011). Experience within the business world is becoming a necessity for employers, leading to the development of unpaid internships (Page, 2012). Unpaid internships, a cost cutting mechanism for organisations, reduce the number of paid jobs available to graduates. In terms of employment ethics this has become a very diverse subject. Implementing a ban on this legitimate unethical act is extremely difficult with students' increasingly needing experience to gain a foothold onto the career ladder (Page, 2013). An argument being, people who do not attend university and go straight into work have at least 3 years more experience in the working world than a graduate which could make them more favourable in society (Mckay, 2012).
Saying this, there are also many positives associated with undertaking further education which have been overlooked recently as focus has been on fees rather than promoting value. Higher education should be measured using other dimensions than primarily translation into earnings for example, job satisfaction and public good. A person who hasn't achieved a degree level qualification could be running a successful business but may not experience the same level of job satisfaction as someone earning less, with a degree and debts such as a Nurse whose role in society is vital and displays the epitome of 'public good'. Iqbal (2013) suggests intrinsic values and intangible benefits must be taken into consideration as skills training may not be the most substantial element of higher education. Developing as a person and gaining transferable skills such as a broad mind set could see the graduate becoming more respected in society through knowledge of independence and maturity (Iqbal, 2013). Parraudin (2011) claims that it is a shame that university has become a commodity and focus has been on cost when for most, the experience as a whole is an encompassing life opportunity. It enables the student to realise ambitions, develop the level of maturity needed to thrive in the workplace and could put the graduate in an enhanced position to a non-graduate when considering societal benefit (Parraudin, 2011).
Another argument in favour of graduates entering the workplace is the increased requirement and ambition to be a part of a socially responsible corporation which has today become a priority for organisations (Rao and Raj, 2011). Graduates opting to choose an employer based on their socially responsible behaviour can only be seen to have a positive impact on both the business environment in terms of ethics and indeed in the global economy itself. Corporate Social Responsibility is vital for corporate citizenship to address matters such as utilitarianism, autonomy and rights (Phippen, 2012). Non-Conformists to ethical customs, for example, the tax debate surrounding Starbucks, Google and Amazon has led to the receipt of a lot of negative media attention. Milton Friedman, market economist, stated that conducting corporate responsibility can indeed allow a business to "make as much money as possible while conforming to the basic rules of society, .. both law.. and ethical custom" (Halbert and Ingulli, 2012). The pressures implemented by graduates for organisations to conform will increasingly aid sustainable development in the future (Rao and Raj, 2011).
In terms of society contribution within management and business development, graduates and the younger generation increasingly have the edge claim NYDA (2013). This is positively highlighted in the progression of the internet culture which is evolving at an exponential rate with the younger generation adapting and embracing technological advancements at a much greater speed than that of their elders (Nickson, 2013). With more businesses turning to this medium not only to communicate with customers but also to run daily operations and improve internal efficiency, the graduates' ability to progress alongside technological advancement with ease shouldn't be overlooked. Generations are increasingly becoming separated through the technological 'generation gap' (Fariwu, 2010), emphasizing the necessity for the graduate in future economic growth and in providing corporations with a much needed sustainable competitive advantage.
This assignment has been greatly beneficial in determining my individual beliefs on higher education and has clarified what I believe is mine and other graduates' social position. A management education does not limit future career possibilities in comparison to a vocational degree. This could be seen as beneficial due to acquiring a broad knowledge of the business industry as a whole, an ideal attribute for businesses today as all departments need to be cohesive to create a sustainable future.
As Napoleon Hill (2007) once proclaimed, the "starting point of achievement is desire". To be successful in business and management the candidate needs to be adaptable to change, which is evidently visible above through the younger generations compliance towards technological advancements. These are traits that are developed throughout childhood and are then enhanced through a university education. Needless to say, some of the most successful businessmen and women have not obtained a university degree which suggests that management and associated careers do not solely start in university but natural traits of leadership can also prevail.
I have confidence in airing my beliefs that A-level students should have all available career options reinforced in an impartial fashion. Through my own educational development, the only 'successful' option highlighted to me was further education. Other options such as college, apprenticeships and working your way up a company were suggested in a blasé manor with the negatives second to none outweighing any positives. Questions have been raised by myself and others relating to the issue of whether 17 is too young to decide upon a future career. Personally, I was unsure what I wanted and after undertaking numerous work experiences, and not finding my niche I was stuck in a rut. Eventually I gained a corporate work experience placement at Brains Beer brewery which showed me that a broad sector degree such as business would not narrow future opportunities, enabling more time to decide upon my career aspirations.
Another opinion I put to you is that perhaps after secondary education all students should take a gap year. I feel it would force young adults to further mature and whether they work or travel it could give them a better depiction of what they want to accomplish. I also feel a break from education and exams could be of extreme value as I experienced last year during my placement job. The break has reignited my motivation to study previously I had undertaken exams for 7 consecutive years.
From speaking to others regarding the subject matter, a theme has emerged where the majority are against the fee increase with a particular statement that stood out of why should we support a government who won't support the youth of today? The role of university is thought to create "capable and cultivated human beings" (. It aims to develop confidence, provide knowledge and a skilled workforce. University is thought to be an investment, in terms of long term financial gain and indeed social gain. Today I feel university is very much about personal gain rather than what the student can bring to society. I accept there is, in a way, a valid argument for public and government funding not to be maintained if as forecasted, it will indeed help aid economic recovery. Saying this, studies have been released claiming it won't in fact aid recovery as fewer students, a drop of 30,000, will actually cost the UK £6.6bn (Coughlan, 2013).
Initially when deciding to embark on a university education, my ultimate aim was to enhance career prospects, but the experience as a whole has provided much more than expected. My self-assurance has grown tremendously and the differences I can are personally are extensive. Meeting dissimilar people and socialising with different cultures has provided a social benefit I did not foresee. Other unexpected values that have been enhanced are; independence, life skills, understanding of the professionalism, the ability to work efficiently in groups and overcoming issues which can all be usefully applied to the real world.
I agree that experience is an important necessity that should be incorporated into further education. Not only are employers increasingly looking for more than just a qualification, it can be of utmost benefit to the student as well. It gave me the confidence to know that I can thrive in a business environment and allowed me to put the learnt theory into practice. The year in industry provides a student with the realisation of business highs and lows and provides a more gentle transition into the working world.
From evidence previously highlighted, I am now ashamed to say that I succumbed to the pressures of gaining work experience and embarked on a year long unpaid internship as part of my 4 year degree course. I found my ideal job, 'Marketing and Communications Assistant' for Cardiff Blues Rugby team, with one downfall: it was unpaid. Through deliberation of the options available to me and considering the effort I had put into seeking an undergraduate placement, it was an opportunity I did not want to turn down. I felt a year working, unpaid, in an industry of interest could be of long term benefit. It did not occur to me that through Cardiff Blues offering unpaid internships, it in fact reduces the number of available paid graduate opportunities.
I gained a lot from the under-graduate placement. I worked a minimum of 40 hours a week and when there was a rugby match this rose to 45-50 hours a week. Luckily I had some finances behind me as a support system but it wasn't enough for me to live on so I undertook another job working in meetings and events for a corporate hotel chain. This proved to be tough as many days I would work 17 hours with the record being 90 hours' in one week! This showed me how tough the working world can be but furthered my knowledge on how different industries operate. I hope it was a sacrifice that will be beneficial in the long run. I believe this opportunity puts me in a strong position as a graduate when looking for work due to the experience received as well as showing versatility. I also ran the 2012 London Marathon and raised £2500 for Children with Cancer which was a great achievement and shows dedication as I was working up to 80 hours a week as well as training and fundraising for this. Charity work will indeed play in my favour as contribution to society when seeking graduate employment.
Once my placement job had drawn to an end (and after months of saving every penny) I went travelling for three months before returning to university to complete my final year. The experience was unforgettable and indeed learning about other cultures opened my mind further to future possibilities. Travelling, in my opinion, is the most independent thing one can do, learning so much about yourself and the responsibility can undeniably develop your character.
Reflecting upon the recent fee increases and looking at personal finances, as a Welsh student a much more financially stable option for me would have been to stay in Wales to continue my studies due to the support I would have received from the Welsh government. At the time I was adamant that I wanted to move from Wales as the 'grass is always greener' but have since realised this is not the case. For students now contemplating university, I think Welsh students and indeed Scottish students should remain studying in their respective countries if possible.
Upon graduation my aspirations are to gain employment back in Wales. Since travelling, a long term ambition will be to hopefully migrate to New Zealand where I can develop my management skills in a differing culture and perhaps even start up my own business if finances become accessible. Without the higher education experience I don't believe that I would ever have acquired the courage or self-belief to make such a drastic move but university has provided me with this independence. A study in the South Wales Echo (2013) revealed that graduates will have a much more difficult time finding employment in Wales than anywhere else in the UK. They reported that only 42% of major Welsh employers offer entry level vacancies, when comparing that to 84% in London it puts a rather bleak outlook onto the likelihood of gaining employment in Wales. Especially for me now, finding a job will be of great concern.
I feel a 4 year course has been long and financially I am currently in a worse position than many of my friends who did not choose further education. I am lagging behind socially as many of them now have their own home with their partners, a full time job and are starting to settle down and have a family. I hope that by the end of my journey this quote below will be one of truth; "I'm not telling you it's going to be easy, I'm telling you it's going to be worth it" (Goodreads, 2013)
In conclusion, there have been arguments both for and against the higher education experience. On one hand, information regarding the proliferation of student suicides have highlighted that undoubtedly financial pressures are affecting students. The media recently have focused on the negative impact of the increased higher educational fees which are evidently causing people to consider alternative options, a move which could potentially cost the economy billions instead of aid economic recovery.
In terms of feasibility, it would appear necessary for people to embark on higher education for vocational courses such as medicine and law. Losing this expertise could severely impact Britain's economic and political position. What has emerged is the theme that 'mickey mouse' courses such as those previously mentioned, may not in reality be financially beneficial in terms of career gains and societal contribution.
Unpaid jobs are making it increasingly difficult for graduates to gain a foothold onto the career ladder. This pushes graduates overseas, whereas Britain should focus on keeping its talent for economic stability. Graduates shouldn't be overlooked in the business world as the future of Britain. Through stronger sustainability beliefs and fast adoption to technological advances graduates have the potential to keep Britain in a global competitive position.
Other values derived from the higher education experience have a greater impact on a person that cannot have a monetary value placed on it but statistically graduates have an average potential of earning up to 27% more than a person acquiring only A-levels (Million +, 2013). Overall, even with the economic downturn and the weighing up of both sides of the argument I feel that a university education is a good investment for both the participant and indeed the economy. For the UK economy to recover support needs to be given to students as the graduate has the potential of increased earnings and in turn society will receives high revenue in terms of tax.