I remember two years ago while I was reading The Prophet during my first year of university, I was instinctively allured by one particular thought. Gibran’s musing was on the subject of children and it read,
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which
you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
At the time – while basking in the boundless ethereal beauty of Gibran’s reflections – I didn’t consider why this meant so much to me. Nevertheless as the years progressed, the profound meaning to these three lines grew in significance, as I noticed the university fee system suffocating students with an increasingly prevalent dogma that was to rip the essence of learning from the hearts of inquisitive undergrads.
Encouragingly, Ed Miliband recently announced that he will be lowering tuition fees to £6,000 if Labour are to be elected; and although this proposed measure is a step in the right direction, it doesn’t go nearly far enough. Our political representatives just don’t get it, when intrinsically it still imposes a fee that inevitability quantifies education which – as I and many other students have come to realize –breeds a myriad of consequences.
You see, by education I don’t merely refer to the academic intake a student experiences during his or her university years, I refer to something far more meaningful; far more personal. Something I was lucky enough to be a part of; something I was lucky enough to flourish in.
I refer to the experiential and collaborative learning process a student experiences during such open and imaginative years.
I personally remember during the final year of my university course I did something that was quite ‘me’ by choosing modules based purely on how their titles and descriptions attracted me, paying no attention to the section where it states ‘transferable skills’, or how it may ‘prepare you for the future’.
The act was quite arrogant in a sense, but it felt right; as I felt I was choosing modules based purely on how they evoked a yearning to learn. A yearning to learn that was rooted in the self. Admittedly I had a life-changing year learning niche modules: such as emotional intelligence and transformational diversity leadership.
Suffice to say, I truly felt that university was having the most profound impact on my life.
The mood however was rather different compared to my friends and acquaintances around me who were just beginning their university years. I could empathize with their dim and worrisome attitudes: for who would want to start their working lives with a debt of £44,000?
However what I observed around me in the sphere of university life, was a milieu derived from the attitudes and minds of students whose demise from being active learners to pure customers had shaped a lethargic environment.
Customers who felt they had to obtain whatever they could from their ‘investment’.
Gradually the romanticism of learning for the sake of learning started to wither away, and in its place a more aggressive approach ushered in more mainstream modules that would possess the ultimate aim of boosting a CV – and that institutional buzzword – ‘employability’.
Implicitly what this drastic increase in tuition fees did, was set in motion a monolithic perception of education that bases the value of a degree solely upon capital outlay and future imbursement.
Of course there’s many downsides to all this; for one, such an over-cautious approach to learning is quite ambiguous for its rigid nature. However what’s more damaging is the sheer impact of lasting debt on the psychological well-being of students.
For example one study in the US found that “on average, the higher the debt amount, the more likely a student or ex-student was to suffer from mental illness.” An element of mental health which is shockingly underexplored in the modern sphere.
In a world where graduates find their comfort bubble burst the minute they enter the working world, and discover that their sole existence in the working environment is to meet the needs of the immediate management – in return for a pay-check. The question thus remains: how damaging is it emotionally, psychologically and spiritually to burden our future generations with a culture which sees university as a means to an end rather than an intellectual playground for personal growth? A mindset where financial measurements can quantify the unquantifiable?
I think Gibran was quite concise when he wrote on future generations that “their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow”; and I would have to argue that the souls of tomorrow – which are the students of today – will no longer be able to thrive emotionally and academically in a system that’s not fit for any year let alone yesteryear.
The mistakes of a previous generation for which this fee system is making its children pay.