The Sunday Times Magazine: I wish I had been clever enough not to go to university

01_05_GLASS_G31_1207261kI wish I hadn’t gone to university. What a waste of three years and tens of thousands of pounds. If only I’d spent that time training as a journalist, instead of faffing about reading Proust.

Don’t get me wrong, I had fun. I read literature at Sussex, which meant three years of lying on a beach, breathing in novels, daytime drinking and playing Dance Dance Revolution down the pier. I also learnt a few things. I learnt how to make my own pina coladas, which I drank in the bath. I learnt that having an outrageous opinion could be rewarded, and later turned that into a job. But still, if I could go back, I wouldn’t bother.

The main reason I went to university was to appear on University Challenge, but I didn’t even make the team. I had a paltry eight “contact hours” with tutors a week. I could have Googled the reading list and watched lectures on YouTube.

I’d once have argued that university is worth it for the freedom it gives you. Now that’s not true. As fees force students to stay living with their parents and campuses become safe spaces where experimenting with ideas is banned, now students risk graduating less equipped for real life.

Tuition fees are shocking: up to £9,000 a year, making England’s the most expensive public universities in the world, according to the OECD. But while we’re right to challenge outrageous fees, we could do with fighting the mentality that insists we all need degrees.

The truth is, much of our degree obsession comes down to a snobbishness that equates academic qualifications with being middle-class 

Our obsession with qualifications starts early. Ten-year-olds fret about passing the 11-plus. Two-year-olds are assessed for feeder nurseries. It feels ridiculous that education, once considered the bastion of free, open thinking, is now prescriptively narrow about the definition of achievement.

We know that these pieces of paper mean nothing. That universities do not contain the brightest minds so much as those who went to the right schools and are good at passing tests. Forward-thinking companies understand this, which is why they disregard degrees in favour of alternative attributes: passion, commitment and hard work. Like Penguin, which recently encouraged applications from non-graduates, and the accountants Ernst & Young, which stopped asking applicants for their educational details. No one has ever asked about my degree — I got a first, thanks very much.


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