With tuition fees at £9,000 per year and fewer opportunities for graduates, is university turning into a results driven, overly pressurised environment?

Now, many of you will read the title of the article and laugh. Pressure! What pressure? You have 6 hours of contact time each week and only one essay and one exam each term. You play loads of sport, laze around playing Fifa and go out drinking more times a week than you study in the library. So you ask, where is the pressure?

For sure I’m not denying that the university lifestyle can be relaxed and lacks intensity at times. It’s much more preferable to working 60 hours a week in the city! However, unless you are a natural genius who just needs to grace the lecture hall with your presence to get a first, there are pressures which are often overlooked.

When my parents went to university in the early 1980s, the fact that they got into university showed they were in the academic elite. They were automatically perceived as amongst the top percentiles of intelligentsia and they hadn’t even picked up a pen. Whereas, now vast numbers of young people go to a wide range of universities meaning that just graduating does not make you stand out from the crowd. In today’s money, you need a 2:1 from a good university to even be considered by many graduate schemes and even just some regular jobs because there are many more people out there competing against you. This has reached such an extent that many perceive a 2:2 or lower as a failure or even a waste of 3 or 4 years. Of course this is not the case but with an ever-increasingly competitive job market it can feel like it at times. This obsession with the 2:1 has actually detracted from university education. Instead of learning something because it is interesting or instead of thinking outside the box, students are playing it safe and aim to do enough to fulfil the mark-scheme criteria to get a 2:1. This has led to higher education marking, based on GSCE-style criteria where students need to jump through certain hoops to gain credit and access higher marks.

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If we go back to our parents’ generation again, they paid nothing for their education. It was totally subsidised by the state. Nowadays, one year at pretty much any university costs £9,000. Therefore, most likely, either someone you know (e.g. parents) is helping you fund your degree or you are relying on the government via student loans (or both). This leads to the feeling for many that messing up or not fully utilising the opportunity at university will involve great costs to a family member or yourself in future years. Plus, with living costs so high in many university cities and towns it is no wonder that students feel the pressure of making the most of their time at university and coming out with a top notch degree.

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At university many find there is a lack of structure, especially when studying for an Arts degree - it is very much self-led. You aren’t told to be somewhere at 9 until 5 and told what tasks or projects need doing, like you would in most jobs. This lack of direction would be a struggle for many, not just eighteen year olds, fresh out of school. University is an incredible period in someone’s life for a whole host of reasons and it is unique, moulded by each individual and what they want to do with it. It is a time to cherish and make the most of, but it can be a highly pressurised environment. Students are going to come out of university with around £50,000 worth of debt and even good grades don’t guarantee that you will walk straight into a good job. Although of course statistically a good degree should still give you a higher earning capacity in the long term.

The best thing to do is make sure that you devote enough time to achieve your academic goals but also take every opportunity at university to develop yourself as a person. Don’t look back and think it was a waste or wish you’d done this or that differently. Most Universities have hundreds of societies and compete in pretty much every sport out there. Never again will so much opportunity be so easily accessible. The pressure is certainly greater these days because of the greater competition and financial implications but it’s still possible to make the most of your university years and achieve all your goals.



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