The great hoax of university


Apparently in 2005, 20,000 students will miss out on first-round university offers in Victoria alone. It seems that anyone and everyone wants a piece of the tertiary education pie, with commentators, parents, teachers and students alike crying out about the lack of places in our universities.

And to them I say — be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it.

Shane Green (The Age, 17/01/05) writes that the students who miss out on a place would ‘be justified in feeling wronged, because they are the victims of what is probably one of the biggest policy failures in Australia in the past twenty years.’ Green, along with many others, cites the hypocrisy of urging achievement but then withholding tertiary places from these students ‘who have strived and qualified.’

But what Green and so many other pundits seem to be ignoring is the other end of the educational pipeline, that of the graduate. Having spent upwards of three years and $12,000 in debt at one of our esteemed institutions, the graduate emerges into the real world; head held high, striving towards the job that they believe is their god-given right as a university graduate.

But they don’t like what they find. Or they don’t find anything. For a university degree is not a guarantee of a job, least of all a job that a young person might actually find engaging or interesting. Rather, students are increasingly railroaded by social expectations into and out of an education system without the slightest concern for what they might actually be interested in or wish to pursue a career or life in. Instead of being engaged and enraptured by the academic challenge and rigour of a university education, they’re bored and alienated by overworked lecturers, underpaid tutors and a myopic system that can’t see beyond their dollar value as an enrolment.

I’ve spoken to thousands of students over the past few years about their dreams, aspirations and education. Almost without exception they see university as a step along the road to success, independence and financial security. Yet when challenged, very few actually know what they want to do as a degree, let alone why. They figure that they’ll be able to work it out once they’re at university, that suddenly everything will become clear. For a lucky minority, this happens. For the vast majority, uncertainty at the start of a degree is matched by uncertainty at the end of a degree.

And so I wonder — what’s the point of having any more university places?

Instead of feeding our young people into a system that does not and can not care about them, why don’t we invest in helping them gain the experiences, ideas and tools to allow them to work out what it is that they’d really like to do?

Why don’t we tell young people that there’s more than one way to be successful?

Why don’t we tell them that there’s no point wasting three years of their lives on a degree that they don’t even know if they want?

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.