It’s hard to believe that we start this journey learning the alphabet with no cares in the world about our future, other than who we will play with at break-time. Yet, in what feels like a blink of an eye, you're sitting in constant interviews and struggling to find a job in your current field.
That unnerving question “what am I doing with my life?” is one almost synonymous with the UK university experience, due to the lack of support from universities, career advisers and personal tutors after you graduate. They practically abandon students to fight against the overwhelming tide of not wanting to be a failure but not knowing how on earth to make that a reality.
Now I understand that it's not our university’s job to spoon feed us with a detailed blueprint of how to navigate the working world. But when you consider how much we pay in university fees (£9,200+), you would like to think you would be equipped with the knowledge of what to do once your degree is over.
Is that the case? No.
New Office for Students data released found that ‘over 50 percent of students from a list of institutions are not in professional employment or education 15 months after graduating’ with students receiving a “raw deal” with low-quality courses and “poor quality provision”, as explained by Nicola Dandridge chief executive of the Office for Students (OfS) in the Telegraph.
Dandridge said: “This data brings into sharp focus the fact that there are profound differences in outcomes for students, depending on where they study and the subject they choose.”
I couldn't have said it better myself, as if you don’t graduate from a Russell Group university or study a “real degree” – perish the thought you study the arts – it's clear that there's a miniscule opportunity you will succeed without taking matters into your own hands and working tirelessly to source out opportunities for yourself.
This reality can be so soul crippling, as the majority of students who undergo arts courses at university are left hopelessly unsupported or guided, contrasted against careers such as medicine, marketing and teaching that have a crafted and fixed path for graduates.
What can universities do to combat the “what’s next” Conundrum?
- Support Support Support
Give students the support and information needed to weigh all career options within their current field. We need proactive personal tutors, career fairs that aren’t fixated on the university’s speciality subjects but for all courses and post-university care that supports our mental health – especially if we are out of work.
- Don’t wait until the end
We shouldn’t have our degree certificates before our universities care to advise us on our next steps. We need adequate opportunities for students to explore their field (e.g. internships and work experience) way before we are in our cap and gowns.
- Put more money into graduates
There's no way universities do not have the funds to put more into graduates with the hefty price tag that comes along with these degrees and student accommodation. Forget about student nights, encouraging the appalling booze culture we have in the UK, and give students the resources they need to flourish in the working world.
The ‘What Next’ conundrum can never be eradicated as you can be 27 and still struggling to find the next phase in your life. However, if more can be done at universities – the place where we find our identities and spend 3-5 years of our lives – then we serve a better chance of not drowning in the unknown.