Why The Head Of UCAS Is Missing The Point About The Grim Reality Of Post Uni Life

She thinks graduates today are too 'career obsessed'...wait, what?

UCAS Is Missing The Point About The Grim Reality Of Post Uni Life

by Vicky Spratt |
Published on

The head of UCAS, Mary Curnock Cook, has warned that students and graduates are too ‘obsessed’ with their careers. She’s worried that universities and parents have become ‘too fixated’ with using their degrees to get a job.

Curnock Cook wants the parents of graduates to encourage their children to move back home and ‘explore their options before embarking on a career’. She said all of this in her final interview with the Telegraph before stepping down as head of UCAS at the end of this month.

Imagine, just for a moment, the sheer luxury of graduating and not having to worry about how the hell you’re going to own money. What would that feel like….tumbleweed…I can’t even conjure up a metaphor because it’s literally such an alien idea. Would it be something like the sensation of taking a four-hour candle-lit bath in champagne? Would feel like having someone follow you around all the time rubbing your shoulders whenever you sat down? Would it be akin to floating everywhere, never actually having to go to the effort of putting one foot in front of the other? How exactly do you describe the feeling of living your life with a giant safety net hanging underneath you?

Actually, it’s probably exactly how Carrie Bradshaw felt when she went trapeze flying in ‘The Catch’ episode of Sex and The City. You know the one in which Vogue sends her to report on the latest fitness craze – trapeze ‘flying’. She bravely manages to work up to letting go and doing a mid-air jump while Stanford her gay BFF watches on adoringly, somehow not totally overwhelmed by his mate’s self-indulgent bullshit. The thing is, and in fairness to Carrie she acknowledges this herself, she can only let go because she knows there’s a giant, bouncy safety net between her and the tarmac and it’s ready to envelop her in its comforting embrace should she fall, slip or tumble. Young people today, though, cannot let go. They can't jump and take a risk because there is no safety net.

‘You have plenty of time to figure out how to be successful in the workplace, so I think the obsession with graduate employment within six months is unhelpful’, she said. ‘Graduates have still got to learn how to function in corporate and working life, if they’re good, they’ll get promoted really quickly', Mary says.

She also said ‘we spend less than a decade in total in secondary and higher education and young people into work today are probably going to spend five decades or more in that environment…I think you get the best out of a university experience when you study something that just sets your brain on fire. Something that motivates you, that gets you really engaged with the subject. It’s about broadening your horizons, it’s too utilitarian to think you’ve got to go to university and then land a career straight after that.’

She's not wrong. Your time at university and the years that follow are some of the best and most formative of your life. The problem is young people are no longer able to enjoy them. After leaving Uni Curnock Cook thinks that ‘students may need to take some downtime after the stresses of finals and dissertations. I don’t think there’s any harm in doing temporary, voluntary or non-graduate work to fill the gap before finding something more permanent.’

Mary, I’m sorry but what have you been smoking?!

In recent years the number of students seeking health for stress and mental health problems has been rising steadily. Is it any bloody wonder? If you know that you'll graduate in tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt, probably have to work for free for a while before you get a badly paid job and then spend the majority of your earnings on rent, all the while reading about how the cost of living is rising because people in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, voted to leave the EU, the odds are that you're going to feel more than a bit on edge.

Mary, here’s the thing, I completely agree with you. I graduated in 2010 and TBH getting my degree was stressful enough, trying to secure internships during every break as well as juggling shifts in my local pub and staying on top of my epic reading list was a lot. I wanted to enjoy my time at university, to focus on what I was learning, the opportunities I had that I would never have again and spend time with the diverse mix of people I was thrown together with but I couldn’t. I knew that at the end of it all I couldn’t move home and I need to be a financially viable human being. Looking back on it all, I was pretty stressed.

The world isn’t like it used to be. Houses are expensive, few people (myself included) are able to buy them unless they’re lucky enough to have parents who help, jobs are very competitive and a degree, in and of itself, just isn’t enough. Nobody cares how much you enjoyed it or what mark you got in that perfectly crafted essay about Proust. They should, they really should, but they don't.

Mary, it’s so lovely that you want young people to enjoy their lives. I do too. But, frankly, I think you’re putting, even more, pressure on them and on their parents. What if your parents can’t have you move back home? What if they don’t want you to? What if they simply can’t support you?

Mary, you’re right that many graduates are ‘career obsessed’. This isn’t out of choice, it’s a necessity. It’s good that you see how hard we work because young people today find themselves being demonised as lazy and apathetic in the press whilst the very generation who dares to criticise us sit in their overpriced houses, on which they’ve made a mint without even lifting a finger, and look forward to their triple-locked pensions. But you’re missing the point…

While her comments may be well meaning, the fact that head of UCAS is telling the youth of today to chill out and suggesting that their parents support them puts unnecessary pressure on those who don’t come from privilege. She should be taking the Government, unpaid internships, buy to let landlords and the highest tuition fees in history to task, her comments are naïve and rub salt into the wound.

Young people are not the problem. We're just responding to the world we've inherited from our elders and it's no walk in the park.

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Follow Vicky on Twitter @Victoria_Spratt

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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