We’re The Customers Now

by alexxxxxandra

Normally for this type of article I’d use The Stag, but unfortunately, I really can’t on this occasion. I’ve not been expressively told not to slag the University off, but I feel it would not be met with positivity. 

Universities have suffered a slump, with applications in England falling by 10% (BBC News) from 2011 to 2012. The University of Southampton’s vice-chancellor revealed in, The Independent,  that UK student intake had fallen by more than 600. This comes after little surprise after the coalition’s controversial decision to raise undergraduate tuition fees to an eye watering £9,000 a year. This legislation came after Clegg promised to cut student fees, leading to student protests in Autumn 2010, culminating in the storming of Millbank’s Tory HQ. 

Here at Surrey we are feeling the slump too, with applications down significantly down on last year (I have found it very difficult to find exact figures, I wonder why?) and rooms being still available in student accommodation. Southampton’s Vice Chancellor describes the slump as a ‘wake up call’. This slump was blamed on the rules surrounding admissions, currently the government caps the number of students a university can recruit with grades lower than AAB. 
However, perhaps universities should be looking closer to home. Surrey prides itself on its impressive employability rates, even though they have fallen on last year. In the current economic climate, coupled with the huge amounts of debt graduates face, employment is paramount. More and more, students seem less interested in furthering their knowledge of their degree subject, but see the degree as a means to the end. The end being a graduate level job.
These grad jobs have become harder and harder to come by. We have been forced into a culture were the degree subject is becoming more and more irrelevant, and the thing that really matters is a full CV. University is a great place to fill up your CV, getting involved in a society or with the Student’s Union will put you in good stead. The long holidays allow for a plethora of paid and unpaid work experience. But what about work experience during term time? Surrey focuses heavily on work experience, with the Careers service more than willing to help out with CVs, and even to help students source companies to apply to for a placement. However, academic studies come first surely. Students shouldn’t have work experience during term time as then they can’t attend lectures.
Well why not? When I was offered work experience at The Times, during term time, I was met with a stiff response from my Programme Director. They couldn’t stop me from going, but they could not condone it. Universities need to change their perception of the nature of a degree. If Surrey was really savvy they’d support people who want to conduct work experience during term time, a cap could be placed on how much study time can be missed, and Lecturers could e-mail notes round. Particularly with subjects with very low contact hours, such as arts based ones which have been hard hit by the fee hike, this could be a brilliant way to hook students in. 
Work Experience could even become a vital part of the Degree experience, much like the success of the Placement Year, which is not viable for everyone. Two weeks work experience could be a mandatory part of your degree. Regardless of whether students have their hearts set on one career or aren’t sure, no can argue that work experience isn’t useful. 
If you went into a shop and they weren’t selling what you want you’d simply walk out. We’re the customers now, and universities aren’t selling us what we want.