Yesterday I completed a six week long psychology course that I signed up to through Futurelearn, a subsidiary of the Open University, that offers a variety of free, on line courses. On completion I was offered the opportunity to sit an external exam which could lead to a qualification. Although not exorbitant, the cost of this was enough to put me off the idea. I have no need for any extra qualifications.

Over the years I have earned the right to include a long string of letters after my name. I use none of them. If I were applying for a job I guess I would list the various accreditations on my CV, but they are no longer relevant to the life I lead now.

I signed up for this psychology course purely out of interest. It is the first time in my life that I have studied with a respected organisation, in this case the University of Warwick, purely for pleasure. The exams I studied for in my younger years were carefully selected to offer me the best chance of getting a well paid job. I get the impression that this approach and aspiration has fallen out of favour.

When my children’s school asks them to consider careers they are encouraged to think about what they enjoy. Whilst I think that it is important to take into account personal interest and ability, I also believe that the usefulness of the qualification should have some significance in the decision making process. It costs a great deal of money to go through higher education these days. A university education has become much more of an investment than it was in my day.

Had I chosen courses that interested me then I would have studied philosophy with, perhaps, a few modules of psychology and sociology thrown into the mix. I have always been fascinated by these subjects. Because of my interest I do a lot of related reading in my own time. I took modules in philosophy at university and excelled at the subject. I had to work stupidly hard at my main degree subject, computer science. The study of philosophy never felt like work.

I didn’t, however, consider that I could land a well paid job with such a degree, and that well paid job mattered to me. I wanted to be able to afford my own home, a car and to travel. For that I needed money. As a student I hated not having enough money. It instilled in me a determination to do whatever it took to earn enough to pay for the life I wished to lead.

I was also lucky of course. When I was going through the system a university education was still funded by government. By the time I graduated there were jobs available and house prices, although climbing, were nothing like as stupidly high as they are now. No matter how hard they work, my children will not have as easy a time as I had getting themselves established.

Perhaps this is why they are now encouraged to pursue their interests more than a potentially high earning career. Perhaps the days of debt free, home ownership have gone except for the uber wealthy minority.

Of course, economics fluctuate wildly over time. When I was studying, unemployment was high and jobs scarce so I knew that I would have to work hard at a sought after subject if I was to get to where I wanted to be. By the time I qualified though, the Thatcher boom years were in full flow and I undoubtedly benefited from that. Whether or not your politics considers her rule a triumph or a disaster for the country, those of us who were starting out when she was in power had the opportunity to reap rewards at the time.

I encourage my children to think about how they will use their qualifications when making choices. If they are going to incur a huge debt then they need to consider how they will pay it back, and whether it is worth getting into debt in the first place.

I have friends whose intelligent children have opted not to go to university because they do not wish to live under the shadow of a massive student loan. With the government currently selling off these debts, it is unclear how interest rates will be affected and how much will eventually be needed to pay them off. I can understand why a university education no longer looks so attractive.

I find this quite depressing. Whilst I do not consider further education to be a right, it seems sad that some of the most academically able choose not to attend purely because of the huge cost. With so many graduates unable to find jobs the incentive to get a degree in anything other than a sought after subject diminishes.

There are no easy answers. We cannot be held accountable for the times into which we are born, all that any of us can do is to work hard to make the best of the situation in which we find ourselves. I wish that I could offer my children more, but ultimately they will have to find their own way and cope as best they can.

Whatever they choose to study, I hope that they retain a love of learning. It is possible to pursue what interests them as well as that which can be practically useful. Learning for learning’s sake can be a very satisfying pastime.

FutureLearn Cupcakes

2 comments on “Learning

  1. K.C. Wise says:

    There is a very similar thing happening here in the U.S. Worse, probably, because there was never a time when students could attend university on government money.

    I went to state-college for undergrad and didn’t pay for room and board because I was a resident assistant–yet I still have some $60,000 in student loan debt from undergrad, and then I have another $50,000 from graduate school. Some of the graduate school loan was forgiven because I taught at a low-income school, but only some $5,000 or so. I’ll be paying for my schooling until I retire.

    So the big thing for middle class/upper-middle class families in America is spending so much money on grade-school education and non-academic stuff that our kids will get scholarships to make this affordable. It’s a hard thing to bank on, but it seems to be working. People shell out stupid money to get their kids the advantage up front, they get paid back with scholarships and grants on the back end…

    And then kids who go through and major in English come out of college with $150,000 worth of debt and no job. It’s a mess.

    Congrats on your course. I, too, loved philosophy and sociology. Political science was my perfect marriage for that, and the teaching degree. Thank God for that teaching minor, or I might not have found a job…

    • zeudytigre says:

      It is such a tough one because someone has to pay in the end. State money has to be collected and if it goes on further education then it isn’t being spent elsewhere. By making students pay so much though, the less wealthy are put off. I feel angered that it is not the brightest but the richest who are able to pursue quality higher education.

      We opted to educate our children through the state sector. There are advantages to this; the biggest one, other than cost, being that she mixes with students from a variety of backgrounds. We are only now discovering the hidden disadvantages though.

      My daughter is trying to gain a place at medical school but needs work experience which can only be gained through personal referrals. The private schools use their parental contacts to set this up; such contacts do not exist in the state sector (I am thankful for some lovely friends who are trying to help us out here). I have just returned from taking her to a pre medics conference which is costing us a lot of money in transport, accommodation and fees. We found out about it from friends whose kids go to private school; state schools don’t mention these sort of opportunities and many could not afford them. She will need to sit extra exams that the medical schools demand, in addition to the standard tests that all sit at eighteen. We will have to pay a few hundred pounds just for those.

      We can do these things to mitigate the disadvantages because we can afford to. I feel so angry though that there will be students out there who may have the ability but cannot consider such a career because of the additional difficulties and costs even before application. We can only hope that we can find out about all the hoops my daughter will have to jump through, which the private schools assist their students to do, in order that she may have a chance at gaining entry.

      And all of this before we even think about the grades she will need to attain in her main exams.

      I strongly believe that education should not be about money but merit; not about quantity but quality. Nepotism should certainly not be a factor. As you say, the current system is a mess.

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