Student stress: University isn't necessarily right for everyone (Anna Gutermuth CC BY-SA 3.0)
My journey through education seems to be the average middle-class dream: I went to good schools (some of which were private), participated in extracurricular activities and even became head boy. After A-levels I started an English degree in London. Life seemed to have set me a pathway and I relished the opportunity to follow it.
However, once at university I realised the course and the institution were not what I had had in mind. During my previous education I had been taught to jump through hoops. New Labour and its insistence on targets had left me ill-equipped to follow this next step. Instead of being given a true education, I had merely been a vehicle for good exam results; teachers had taught me to pass at all costs, to the exclusion of my wider personal development. When confronted with the complexities of Beowulf I realised that I was neither prepared for this type of academia nor wanted it. It was pointless.
After struggling for two years, I left university and looked for something else. Rescue came in the form of an apprenticeship I happened upon while desperately browsing the internet. I’d always thought apprenticeships were for plumbers and electricians, yet this was a community arts post at a charity for older people in West London.
Once in work, my life changed and I discovered a purpose. I delighted in working within a team. I was trusted with key responsibilities, always treated as an equal rather than a student, and allowed to be creative in my approach to problem-solving. I had regular workshops at the V&A and was given half a day a week to build my portfolio for my National Vocational Qualification (NVQ). Six months after starting I have been promoted to a full-time position and am now earning a salary on a par with a graduate from a Russell Group university.
Why do we not encourage more students to take this path? With universities awash with non-subjects and employers bemoaning the lack of genuine workplace skills among graduates, we need more applied positions in tertiary education. This contemporary fetish for a degree has left us with a diluted system and a growing group of unemployed graduates.
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