Article from The Tyne Valley Express

I was driving through Jesmond during the late September heatwave and couldn’t help noticing all the students out and about, without a care in the world. At first I was reminded of my own happy Student days but then remembered that being a student now comes with a hefty price-tag. When the students of today graduate, they will begin their working life in debt. 

The government is lifting the cap on university tuition fees to £9000 per year in 2012 and that is before the costs of living. With unemployment on the rise and a squeeze on university places, is higher education the way forward? For those pursuing a profession, such as the Law or medicine, going to university is essential of course and having a degree can give you access to well-paid employment.  But it can also take you out of paid employment for three or four years then put you back into the job-market no further ahead.

A number of alternatives to the traditional degree courses have been mooted with more distance learning and use of IT. Business Secretary Vince Cable has suggested that two year degree courses become the norm. At the moment fast-track, two year courses are be trialled at seven English universities, primarily in business-related subjects and Law. At Buckingham University the  UK’s first independent university which offers a two year course, the Dean of Law Professor Susan Edwards says:

“It’s more intense but we produce students who employers know are going to deliver, prioritise and be focused”

As the owner of a law practice, I frequently offer work-experience to a range of students.  However, I’m not interested in academic success alone. Just as UCAS now requires a personal statement to demonstrate suitability for a course, I want to see that a student can think independently, can communicate effectively and has taken the time to find out about the firm  I’m amazed at the number of applications I receive from university students who haven’t bothered to include a covering letter or to use spell-check. I recently offered work-experience to a student I met whilst she was working as a silver-service waitress at Newcastle Races because she impressed me with her can-do attitude and people skills.

Many of my clients have never been to university but have built up highly successful businesses and careers. Similarly friends of mine have qualified as doctors and lawyers but decided to follow their dreams and write or teach yoga.

Whether university should simply be preparation for a job or a life-changing experience is a matter for debate. But as university fees increase and students have to think carefully about whether further education is for them, I am confident that the glittering prizes await those have more to offer than academic success alone.