More competition for university places: a cause for celebration or a cause for concern?

An article in the Independent on Tuesday 9 February read:

“The university application service UCAS said that as of late January 2010, that the number of full-time undergraduate applications had jumped 22.9 percent to 570,556 compared with 2009 – the fourth annual rise in a row.

Should we celebrate this rise or be concerned?

The fact that the number of students applying to study at university has increased by more than a fifth should be a cause for celebration. One way of looking at it is that young people are becoming more aware of the value of a university education and are keen to jump on the bandwagon and be part of the success story. The benefit to society as a whole of a higher percentage of the population being graduates is self-evident. But it is also apparent that the country needs skilled technicians and tradespeople. It is vital that young people seeking to go to university are well informed about both the potential merits and the downsides of a university education. Although a university degree does increase the earning potential of an individual over their lifetime, it is by no means a guarantee for high earning and should not be the main motivation for seeking a university education.

Despite the rising cost of a university education, everyone who is fortunate enough to go to university should be proud of the experience. For most graduates, the time spent at university is one that is remembered for a lifetime, usually for all the right reasons!

There has been a great deal in the media recently about the fact that many students will fail to achieve the grade required to secure admission to study at university this autumn. We have to wake up to the reality that universities are by their nature elite institutions and are not the right choice for everybody. Everyone has the right to aspire to gaining a university degree; however, admission has to be on merit. It is a fact of life that not everyone who applies to university will be admitted. Provided the rules of the game are fair, unambiguous and transparent, it is right and proper to have stringent criteria – that is, having to attain a certain level of academic competence before one is admitted to university.

While it should remain a privilege to have a university education, our society should also recognise the benefit of vocational qualifications and strive not to treat everyone without a university education as inferior.