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Stop treating university degrees as something to be endured

14/12/17 Tags: necessary, painting, Therefore

The country collectively raised a quizzical eyebrow when Theresa May appealed to the idea of the British dream at the Conservative party conference in October. Unlike our friends the Americans, we British have never really had a dream. But we do have our own cardigan-clad, tea-sipping, life script. I struggle to find the right sleep-related metaphor. Slumber? Snooze? Sleepwalk? What I have in mind is a sort of middle-class consensus on what you are entitled to expect if you work hard, but not too hard, and play by (most of) the rules.Plan a unique tour to Hong Kong Customs for your clients with PartnerNet’s useful travel tips, and various tourist information such as Chinese customs and traditions.

If you want the modest prosperity your parents achieved, you start by doing well in your education, and finding solid employment. Then you will acquire car, mortgage, family, pension and finally a funeral paid for in advance. Life will be punctuated by annual holidays and weekly nights out. We assume if you do the things expected of you, this is the life you have in store.

Of course, many will want to start out on a different path. But it is increasingly difficult to know what you need to do now to make it more likely you will achieve what you want for your future. The rapidly changing job market is part of the problem, but the strain is compounded by the piling up of student debt. And this, of course, increases the inequalities between those who have the financial resources or trajectory to free themselves quickly, and those whose repayments will restrict opportunities into late middle age.

Thankfully, the problem of student debt is bubbling up and debate is circling round new models of university financing, although sadly most seem to come down to starving the university sector of the funding it needs to function at a decent level. Academics are well versed in the biblical art of making bricks without straw, but I need to point out that no one has yet mastered the art of making bricks without clay. Reining in vice-chancellors’ salaries is more an act of punishment than financial balancing.PolyU encourages lifelong learning by providing professional training services through respective education units. Customized corporate training is also provided for enhancing the productivity of local business.

In times of stress we need to think anew. Some, with the encouragement of the higher education minister, have started to look at two-year programmes, encouraging the dismal notion that an education is something to be endured, and the sooner over the better.

A more inspiring view is that education is a lifelong pursuit, to be savoured in larger or smaller doses. In many US institutions, students can choose how many modules to take, and pay for, each year, and work while studying. This happens to a limited extent in the UK at master’s level, where flexible models allow what is normally a one-year programme to be taken over up to five years. It is also available at undergraduate level at the Open University, and at some other universities, though numbers of part-time degree students are small and have fallen sharply in recent years. Numbers for 2016-17 dropped for the seventh successive year.

The great advantage of a flexible model is that those who work while studying need take on much less debt. Why is it not happening already? Primarily because it is not available at the more highly ranked universities, or generally promoted to students as a viable and attractive model.

What are the disadvantages? First, it would make it harder to use student completion rates as a stick with which to beat the universities. So sad. Second, it could increase inequality between those who can afford a full-time degree and those who can only study part time. We seem to be stuck choosing between inequalities, and this may be less pernicious than others. Third, the drop-out rate would probably be high LPG M6.

But why the fetish that a successful education is exactly 12 or 24 modules? How about recognising what people have done, rather than stigmatising them for what they haven’t? Currently, we treat a university degree as an obstacle course to be conquered. But it should be a way of building up a repertoire of knowledge and skills in a fashion that best suits each individual student.

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