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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. Her latest book is Hiding in Plain Sight: Exploring Scotland's ill health. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 10/03/2006 | 1 Comment

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about university education for young
people as my son has just unexpectedly quit his course and gone off to
Australia for three months. And I have absolutely no hard feelings
about it – other than the fact I won’t be seeing him for a while. For
some time now I have felt rather bemused by why there is so much
emphasis on university education in the first place and how it has
become the automatic choice for any child of a middle class family who
can get the entrance qualifications. My son’s decision to go to
university in the first place was not as a result of pressure from
home; it was a reflection of these wider societal pressures. His
decision to quit, before finishing his first year, was not that he
couldn’t cope with the work but simply that he found the subjects he
had chosen so ‘boring’ he was finding it difficult to motivate himself.

My reservation about widening access to university is not necessarily
about the quality of education or about questioning the value of
academic life. Far from it. Since I did an honours degree and a Ph.D I
was a student at university in a full or part-time capacity for more
than ten years. My questioning comes from the fact that more and more
young people are being encouraged into university when they are not by
nature that interested or suited to such studies. Regularly I meet
young people studying history, for example, when they really don’t give
a damn about Tudor England, Bolshevik Russia or the Scottish
Reformation. They soldier on, often accruing a lot of debt in the
process, thinking it is the passport to a good job when it just isn’t.
There are a lot of graduates out there now in secretarial or admin
positions – jobs which do not need the benefits of a university

I am by nature the type of person who likes abstract ideas and logical
thinking. But I know from working with personality type for many years
that many people are not. The majority of people – around 70% of the
population at large - are much more feet on the ground. They value
concrete experience and prefer facts to ideas. Lots of folk also prefer
to work more with their hands rather than their brains. Yet our society
has come to devalue practical skills so much that we have a shortage of
plumbers and joiners and a surfeit of young people with sociology and
media studies degrees.

I do not think it is often a good idea for young people to get into a
proper job as soon as they leave school. They often need space to try
out a lot of different types of temporary jobs. Volunteering at home or
abroad is often a good option. I don’t know what Gordon Brown’s
National Volunteering Scheme will involve but I’m certainly in favour
of some type of national project to allow young people to work in a
relaxed atmosphere and gain experience in life without having to sit in
libraries reading books they are not interested in. What’s more,
emphasising an ethic of volunteering – of putting something into
community life and helping others – is in line with recent studies on
what makes for a happy life.

Study and engagement in academic pursuits can be pleasurable for those
who are interested. It can lead on to a chosen career. But for many of
our young people toiling away at university on subjects that don’t
motivate them is rather pointless. It is a waste not only of their time
but also of public money. Better to get out and do something more
enjoyable and perhaps more useful to the wider world.

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