• Thu. May 30th, 2024

University – an exercise in futility?

ByFreddie Shaw

Feb 16, 2023
An image of McEwan Hall

As I’m sure you are aware, we are living in a winter of discontent. It seems that strike action has taken hold in practically every public service in the country, including the universities. With the grim prospect of 18 days of disruptions looming, the purpose of this article is not to analyse the merits and drawbacks of the industrial action and whether it is justified – rather, it addresses the conundrum that I am sure has passed over the minds of many students: whether studying at university is even worth it?

For many, 18 days of strikes may very well mark a near-complete disruption of in-person university engagements. Personally, while checking the days that lecturers will be on the picket line against my calendar, practically all of my tutorials will most likely not go ahead. In response, the university establishment has offered a measly £350 maximum in compensation. Not only is this an insult considering the huge amount of money we pay per term, but also, when I spoke to some fellow students during the last period of strikes about the remuneration, it turns out many were denied it for no good reason at all. 

I am now dogged by this complete sense of meaninglessness. I check through the readings that need to be done for my tutorials, open up JSTOR in a flurry of optimism and endeavour, before being crushed with the realisation that there isn’t any point in doing so since it won’t be on anyway.

But for me, the strikes are just the tip of the iceberg. 

The university as a whole seems to be a series of underwhelming disappointments. Without trying to come across as too reactionary, I don’t think they are what they were. Universities were established as institutions at the pinnacle of seeking academic truth, which could then be transmitted to avid students, who could debate and refine such ideas. However, stark data on self-censorship at universities put this ideal into complete disrepute. In a survey conducted in 2021, it was found that 80% of students refrain from saying what they believe for fear of backlash from the university ‘thought police’.

So, the university does not function as it should. No longer is it the hub of the exchange of radical ideas, but rather it is a flaccid and feckless institution that’s only worth seems to be the awarding of a piece of paper at the end that substantiates some kind of intelligence.

You might say: ‘well, this piece of paper will get me a good job’. Yes, it probably will. That is the sad reality of the modern labour market. So many jobs are off-limit if you don’t have a degree. But think about it. You’ve spent four years and £37,000 to be marginally better than unemployed.

What I find most worrying however is people’s complete apathy towards the situation. It seems to me that the only suitable response to this situation is outrage. But nobody appears to care at all. They are missing up to 18 days of education that they have paid exorbitant amounts for and can only exclaim how it makes their hungover couch-surfing session so much more permissible. 

Your reading of this article has probably led you to conclude what a miserable bastard I am. And maybe you’re right. But miserable or not, let me conclude with a quote from Will Hunting that might leave you with some food for thought on the utility of your so-called ‘higher’ education: ‘You dropped 150 grand on a fucking education that you could’ve got for a $1.50 in late charges at the public library’.

Image Credit: McEwan Hall, Bristo Square, University of Edinburgh” by dun_deagh is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.