Early one morning in August 1970 I picked up a small brown envelope which had just come through the letter box, and carried it into the dingy little ground floor back room behind the 'shop' of the near derelict Victorian bakery where I'd lived for the past eleven years. It was around 8.00 a.m., because in those days - in Brighton anyhow - mail used to get delivered first thing. The little brown envelope bore my own handwriting and stamp, and had been left along with everyone else's in the school office on the last day of term. I had already commenced working - hopefully short term only - in a small engineering shop four weeks earlier. But here were my GCE 'O' level results. In the world of 1970, here was my adult future supposedly; Four GCE passes, including English language, back in 1970, would open doors ... The little white slip bore two blocks of typeset, one for the GCE's sat, and below that a smaller one for the CSE's (Certificate of Secondary Education). However, the very first thing I nervously took in was not the typesets themselves but a brief, black ink annotation at the bottom from the school's headmaster: 'Hearty congrats! R.B. Tibble'. And that, essentially, back in 1970, was that.
Now scroll forward forty-one years to the eighteenth of August 2011. Forget all about latter day 'O' levels, now called GCSE's. They mean nothing now. Now it is said that a good university degree is essential for any decent career. Perhaps so, perhaps not. Probably is, in my opinion, despite a lot of contrary views expressed in the press and on T.V. lately about 'Mickey Mouse Degrees' and 'A' levels getting easier' and 'go for apprenticeships' etc. (Apprenticeships? In this recession? Having a laugh are we?)
This morning, 18/8/2011, 673,570 hopefuls were chasing approximately 470,000 university places. First choice offers, insurance offers, all subject to conditional 'A' level results. Unprecedented demand for places, right now today, due to our wonderful coalition government's raising tuition fees to an impossible £9,000 p.a. from 2012. (And, on a personal note, may a certain Mr Clegg and his pathetic little political party suffer electoral meltdown after their cynical betrayal of their copper bottomed pre-election pledge to resist any moves to increase university tuition fees in England!)
So 2011 becomes the one and only chance left to avoid the charges for this year's Year 13's in England. My daughter Jen, and all her mates, being among them. Then add to that - and for the same reason - yet further increased demand from mature students who 'year gapped' last year, foreign students paying up to £20,000 p.a., and overall around 5% less places available compared to 2010. Universities demanding higher 'A' level grades therefore - just basic supply and demand economics at the end of the day. And the figures speak for themselves: No more than 40,000 clearing places available for around 350,000 candidates who fail to get their grades as required. Furthermore around fifteen of the top universities have all but blocked any British students applying through Clearing, leaving only a dozen or so places available. It has been in the newspapers for days now. Worry, stress, panic. Why should eighteen year olds be subjected to such pressures? And yet they are. Believe me, I've been close up to it this past week! By very early this morning some of Jen's mates had received personal e-mails from their chosen universities confirming their places. Many others, including Jen, had not. Did that signify anything? Time stood still almost. The UCAS website became impossible to log into immediately after it went online dead on 8.00 a.m. this morning. Jen, with one firm offer out of five applications, had already sat up half the night. And she wasn't the only one not to sleep well. Some joker on Facebook described the situation as not so much UCAS as UCAN'T! A short while later, at around 8.40, with some 600,000 + stressed out youngsters all trying to get into Tracking, the UCAS site crashed completely. Jen, frustrated, stressed, angry, fearful, set off for her college to get her results manually. “If I don't get in this year I'm f ***ing screwed!” And that is right too. For ordinary families, good old 'Middle Englanders' a post graduate debt of around £58,000 with an interest rate of 7% from the day the loan is taken out, really is too high a price to pay. Put plainly, it just isn't affordable.
We urged her to drive carefully.
Happy to relate Jen comfortably achieved her required grades, and her place to study History and French at Cardiff University has now been confirmed. And with just two unfortunate exceptions all of her immediate peer group circle did likewise.
But is this really the way for the country to treat its next leading generation? Withdrawing higher educational funding whilst bailing out Eurozone cripples, spending billions on staving off financial collapses caused by the naked personal greed of a few hundred bankers, and playing cheap, cynical party politics with the nation's future? Driving teenagers who genuinely want to make something of their lives into the levels of worry and stress seen just lately? In Scotland Scottish born students do not pay any tuition fees at all! Zilch! In Wales Welsh born students have theirs heavily subsidised. Devolution for England maybe?
It has been one hell of a stressful day all round! And multiply that by 600,000 households plus! So okay, we're alright now! Phew! … and all that ... But what's next? Is a university degree once more to become the privilege of the children of wealthy parents? Would it be a good thing if it does? I do not have an answer, but if someone had told me back in August 1970 as I read down my little slip of paper that in just over forty years time the situation with higher education and results would be as it has been this day, I truly doubt that I would have believed them.
Published on writebuzz®:
> A day in my life