Universities, oversubscription and the future: why you should be glad you’re getting out early

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If you’re anything like me, you don’t really care to remember the UCAS application process that got you to this. After all, this is Durham; the Oxbridge rejection probably still stings for a third of you. But give some thought to current applicants, who may find themselves in the strange situation where their first choice accepts them – but doesn’t want them just yet, or even at all.

Two strange pandemic-impacted application years have finally seen the dam burst; universities in the UK simply can’t cope with the demand they’re facing. By nearly all metrics, demand for higher education has been increasing year on year on year. If undergraduate students decided to all set up shop in the same part of the country, they’d be the tenth biggest urban area and the third biggest city (assuming we could stretch ourselves to building a cathedral and applying for the royal charter in between summatives). Like the proverbial goose being cooked, the frog in boiling water, our higher education institutions have realised there is a limit to how much money they can rake in guilt-free and are, bizarrely, trying to give some of it back.

Frankly, if I were an offer holder, I’d be salivating at some of the stuff out there. £10,000 and free accommodation for a year out? Yes, please. Our own hallowed stomping ground has been, er, slightly less generous with a measly £5,000 offer, although it does extend to 8 different courses. Even with stuffing all the fresh they can into postgrad accommodation and private blocks, there simply isn’t enough room at the inn.

At least we have the SU — where can you go if you’re not even a student?

In their desperate attempts to capitalise on the desperation of students who’ve had anything but a normal end to secondary school, and their desire to socialise and learn with their peers, universities have been warned that they are potentially breaking the law in denying those they can’t fit in with oversubscription loopholes in their acceptance offers. It’s slim consolation to those of you who are paying tens of thousands to be at a university that expresses the minimal amount of care for students that it can get away with; some people get the door shut in their face at the last step. What’s their recrimination? At least we have the SU — where can you go if you’re not even a student?

It should be noted that this isn’t exclusively the fault of higher education companies (loath though I am to offer them any concession). After all, it’s not as if the Department for Education couldn’t see this coming. One disastrous year of adjusted grades plus exactly the same conditions is supposed to lead to… what else, exactly? It seems more embarrassing somehow to only be holding the one ball and still fuck it up quite this badly. What was the idea to counter grade inflation? Even more higher grades! Revolutionary.

Since Blair, governments have been very keen on getting higher education stats ever higher. Cameron saw something coming down the line and tried to revamp apprenticeships, but they remain comprehensively dwarfed by their bulkier cousin. The most competent Education Minister we’ve had for ten years is probably Gove, so that should tell you something.

Make it so universities compete to garner students by the quality and life-enhancing experience they can provide

The uncomfortable truth that this situation is pulling the curtain back on, is that higher education has lumbered even closer to becoming a pure profit-driven industry. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a machine gouged out and replaced from the inside, universities wear the skin of knowledge and development but are more interested in building apartment-block prisons that they will charge you £7,000 for the privilege of being locked in. 

There are probably two routes that we can take from this situation. One is to try and reverse the situation; build more universities, have the government take more interest in what they’re indirectly funding. Lower fees. Make it so universities compete to garner students by the quality and life-enhancing experience they can provide. 

To my cynical mind, though, the other path is probably more likely. A situation where the limitations and stipulations on student loans are removed so you can be saddled with it for the rest of your lives. A situation where a degree is something you buy rather than earn, where ‘prestige’ is a cheap trick to up the fees and the sheep’s clothing is thrown off for sheer greed. A country choked by high-rise first-year accommodation in the same three colours. The future: a boot stomping on a student’s face, forever. 

Makes you almost glad you’re getting out before the poor sods yet to come, eh?

Image: Vasily Koloda via Unsplash

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