Engaging head and heart

Library interior

By Magnus Bashaarat, Head of Bedales

A report which ran in The Times on Monday was difficult reading for arts undergraduates sharpening their pencils and adding more memory to their smartphones ahead of the new university year about to start. Freshers will be worrying whether they have made the right choices, and those nearing the end of their degree courses might be facing even more than the standard amount of Brexit-tinged uncertainty laced with a thick layer of debt.

Figures previewed from The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2019, which is published next weekend, found that the best-paid graduates were those who had studied computer science at Imperial College London, topping out at £50k six months after graduation. The course with the lowest average graduate salaries was drama, dance and cinematics at Liverpool Hope University, whose graduates earned a mean figure of £9,000 after six months. In this context I think ‘mean’ could mean more than average.

As an arts graduate myself (English Language and Literature, although the Language bit was scarily scientific and not what I had signed up for), I can sympathise with the frisson of doubt chilling bedsits of those undergraduates not doing the Milk Round, because there isn’t really one for actors, dancers and cameramen, when their suited and booted friends with computing, maths and physics degrees move into a world where they seem to have more choices about where to sign than Eden Hazard.

Both routes, of course, are equally valid and important to our nation’s economy. If you have a skill that is in short supply, and demand is great, then you have positive choices to make. But Polonius’s words to Laertes from Hamlet resonate at such a time, ‘This above all: to thine own self be true’. If you’re making a choice now, as so many students in their final year will be, putting the final touches to their UCAS application, then don’t opt for a degree course because you think you will be well paid when you come out at the end of it with a degree. If only life was that simple (it isn’t). Three or four year degree course study will only be rewarding, stimulating and worthwhile, if you are studying a subject about which you feel passionate and with which you have a visceral and intellectual connection. You only get one chance to do your first degree, and whilst it’s important to have an idea of what your next steps will be after university, money shouldn’t be the most important motivator. The statistic that will be most illuminating when the university guide is published, is that which shows what the completion rate for each degree course is, by subject, and by university. Drop-out rates are increasing, and there are complex social reasons why this is the case, but fundamentally there are more undergraduates on courses they don’t really want to do, and after the alcohol-fuelled enthusiasm of Freshers’ Week is over, the cold reality of study, sacrifice and cost dawns.

So make the choice with head and heart fully engaged, and leave the pound signs for later.