Wednesday, 6 July 2016

54 Degrees North

The Young Fellow enjoyed the odd pint of Guinness while on Jersey:

Well, he deserved it, after his results.  The big graduation ceremony was yesterday, at Queen's Belfast (which is about 54 degrees North, in case you were wondering).  It was a great day.

It's interesting looking at the University's approach to the whole graduation thing, which if you were the cynical type, could be regarded as just another way to raise a few ££s.  Queen's is not alone here - they are all at it. It's not enough that the tuition fees are substantial (although I have to admit that as it stands in Ulster the fees are slightly less than half that of Universities in England, where they are £9,000 per year.  In Scotland, by the way, tuition is £1820 per year for Scottish Students or non-UK EU citizens.  Got that?  Non-UK EU students. A student from the RestOfUk (RUK) - England, Wales or Northern Ireland - will be charged the full £9000 per year but a French student studying at a Scottish University will be charged £1820.  Methinks it's best not to comment further about that particular anomaly, given the current situation we find ourselves in, eh?).

No, the thing is, once you actually reach the finishing post after your 3, 4 or 5 hard years of partying studying there is a cost (£67) just to attend the graduation ceremony, hire the gown for 24 hours, go to the boring speeches, have your name called out, walk up to to the platform and get your hand firmly shaken by the Vice Chancellor.  That's if you're lucky - most times it will be another Senior Member of Staff who you've probably never seen before and will most likely never see again.  And if you want to impress the family with strawberries and cream in the 'Garden Party' that will be an extra £20, thank you very much.  And if you want the official photograph then you have to dig deep.  Not that we needed to do that, obviously :)

The University graduating experience can be summed up in three words: It's a business.

Now I know that no-one is forced to go to University - it's a choice.  But in the last 10 years it has become an expensive choice. That's all I'm saying.

I'll leave the last words to The Young Fellow himself, who when he learned that his soon-to-be employer, BT, offer apprenticeships to school leavers.  He said if he'd known that 5 years ago he wouldn't have bothered going to Uni.  The thing is, it's no longer in a school's interest to actually tell their pupils about apprenticeships, since they have one eye on the League Tables. The more of their students that go to Uni, the better the school looks - as far as the League Tables say, right?  It's all a game and they're all playing it.  So, schools want as many of their students as possible to go to Uni, whether it's the right thing for them or not.  It's nuts, the whole thing.

I saw it, at Ulster University where I spent the last 15 years of my career.  There was a significant percentage of students who had no interest in or aptitude for their subject.  They were only there as there was peer pressure to go, mummy and daddy wanted their child to 'go to University' and for a few of them, it was to get them out of the house and doing something - anything.  You would think that many of them would fall by the wayside once the academic work ramped up, but you would be wrong.  You see, for every student that arrives on day one, the University gets money, income, from the UK government.  And for every student that leaves, it loses income.  You can see where I'm going with this, right?  Once accepted onto a course, the University will do everything in its power to keep them.  Remember, folks - it's a business.

In spite of my working life spent in academia - or maybe because of it - I have a great regard for the likes of Alan Sugar, who famously left school at 16.  Also Jack Taylor.  Who?  Jack Taylor - the guy who created Enterprise Rent-A-Car, with annual revenue of $19.4 billion in 2015.  The company that employs more graduates every year than any other company.  Now that is some achievement - and most of them start by washing and vacuuming cars.  Mr Taylor passed away a few days ago, at the ripe old age of 94.  As the NY Times article states, he was a poor student by his account, and joked that World War II, which ended his college career after 2 semesters at Washington University, 'saved me from any further educational opportunities'.  Nicely put Mr Taylor, nicely put.


  1. A bunch of very interesting words Mr. McNeill, and actually something I have been thinking a bit about lately. You see my wife will be on her way over to old England in just a few days to witness her daughter going through the graduation ceremony you talk about, with the handshake and the boring speech and all that. And I have been thinking just the same, that it's all business these days. Maybe you could also add the significant carbon footprint left by all the parents flying in from every corner of the world just to witness the fun as well?! :))
    OK, it's all voluntary and your own choice I know. And my wife would not miss any chance she get to go over to the UK anyway, which mean she would most likely find a different reason to spend a few days over there if her daughter studied elsewhere in the world... But it's a very interesting matter you bring up here, I must say.
    The entire school system is completely different over here, meaning there's no tuition fees to be payed or anything. Still it's a tough choice to make for anyone to go to university or not. You will loose a few years of potential income, and you will never be sure if it pays off or not during your life time.
    To be absolutely honest I think, for most people in Norway today, the best way to learn any trade is to join one of the very many practically directed schools. Three years in school learning all the theoretical stuff for the trade AND all the basic knowledge you need from all kinds of subjects these days, then two years out in some company serving as an apprentice will usually do the trick. Then you end up with a certificate of apprenticeship of some kind, and would be just as popular to any employer as anyone coming out with some kind of more or less useful degree from university. But hey, this is not valid to all of us... I know! But for most of the people in Norway today it is. Luckily this has very much turned around from back in the days when I was young, and these days it's far more popular to learn a trade than just automatically think that university is the way to go for everyone.

    I remember my last day at the university quite well... I was only there to deliver my final work, after sitting up all night to get everything ready before the final deadline. I made it in time, went in with a bunch of papers, and left. And that's it. A few weeks later I got my results in form of a few pages of paper in my mail box, and out in the world I went. No ceremonies or handshakes, no parties or farewells to fellow students. And no boring speeches.
    Vacuum... that's the feeling I was left with after those three years at Uni. It did not last for long, though, and anyone will come over it quite soon I would say. :))

    1. An interesting comment, Roy. Very interesting. It sounds like you guys over there have it right. We have, unfortunately, thrown away all our apprecentiships which is a real disaster. Now our less academic peeps do rubbish courses at Uni, get rubbish degrees, feel rubbish afterwards and have huge debt. We have first hand experience of that too in our family, believe me. I hope the UK gets serious about offering our young people a real alternative to the 'Media Studies' courses at third-rate Universities! And it's not like the country doesn't need skilled people - we do, lots of them and that's why so many Poles are here doing really great work. Thank goodness for them, I say.

      Interesting you say that things have changed since you were younger - Norway could teach the UK a thing or two in that department.

      Your last days at Uni do sound a little 'flat', for sure. It is a grand day out for all the family, the whole graduation thing. But as you say, quickly forgotten once the real world kicks in...and methinks you are very definitely in the real world my friend, out there where you work :)