Argh, Dude is FRUSTRATED!

I’m considering picketing the House of Commons, fashioning a giant yellow sign that reads “FOR GOD’S SAKE! GIVE STUDENTS AND GRADUATES BETTER CAREER ADVICE!”

Although there are signs that business secretary Peter Mandelson is finally grasping the nettle and realising students deserve a whole lot more respect now that tuition fees have made them ‘paying customers’ – Dude? has spotted a gaping hole in his new ‘Higher Education Framework,’ announced on Tuesday.

Amazingly, the government still hasn’t twigged that offering quality careers advice is as vital piece of the puzzle. WHEN are they planning to give you lot the kind of practical help you’re crying out for? The kind of careers advice that’s actually useful in 2009?

If you haven’t read about it already, among other ideas, Mandy has suggested a sort of ‘labelling system’ for university courses to force – my mistake, encourage – universities to be more transparent (ie less sneaky) when ‘selling’ their courses to young people.

How much hands-on tutoring will their fees buy them, for example?

How likely is this course to get them a job at the end – and how well-paid is that job likely to be?

If it works, I’m a happy camper. After all, nobody wants to be sold a lemon.

And when they’re talking about spending thousands of pounds, students absolutely deserve to know what they’re paying for.

Regardless of whether this system ever actually happens, the fact that it was even proposed represents two monster climb-downs from Mandy and his department.

1) They are effectively acknowledging that universities have a moral obligation not to sell ‘Mickey Mouse’ degrees as if they’re a one-way ticket to a stellar career and untold riches.

2) They seem to have cottoned on that charging students fees has given students a legitimate voice as consumers – with the rights that go with that.

Predictably, the universities are having a giant diva strop.

Some are claiming they’re effectively being asked to ‘dumb down’ standards in order to ‘keep customers happy’. Others claim Mandy’s labelling plans are ‘reductive’, neglecting the true value of university and turning a degree into a commodity, to be ‘bought’ (by students) and ‘sold’ (to employers).

I say “Get over it, loves”. If you charge money for a service, you become a supplier – and your customer becomes a client. End of.

As for all this talk from professors about what a university education ‘should’ be about (broadening one’s mind, enjoying the love of learning for learning’s sake, etc), what planet are they living on?

Clearly one that isn’t going through a recession or a digital revolution (both of which are currently shaking many industries to their core, narrowing graduates chances of getting a foot in the door).

Would these professors spend 15-20k on something that er, yes, absolutely definitely has a value, it’s just that no-one can say exactly what that value is, but it’s really very very important and definitely a good idea, even if it’s just because it’s all good background for a career, even if you don’t know which one you want yet, but again, no-one can say exactly how this ‘good background’ translates into improved chances of getting a job, or improved chances that that job might be paid more than the minimum wage, but even though they have no idea why, they’re 100% sure that a degree is a terribly terribly good idea in the long run…

No, I thought not.

If anyone has turned higher education into a ‘commodity’, it’s the universities themselves. They did that the minute they started charging fees.

Expecting young people to hand over thousands of pounds with no clear information about what they’re paying for is outrageously arrogant.

While I’m on a roll (breathe, Tanya!), a couple of other things are keeping Dude? awake at night, on the subject of Mandy’s plans…

1) The phrase ‘labelling system’ (some kind of proposed ratings thingamy for each course) fills my heart with dread. Knowing the powers-that-be, I can’t help fearing the result will either be a) hugely complicated, b) insanely simplistic, c) vulnerable to number-fiddling by universities or d) make universities focus on targets, points and gold stars when they should be concentrating on teaching the students.

2) My other BIG concern is that I noted that Uncle Pete’s shiny new ‘framework’ made absolutely no mention of the shamefully sorry state of graduate careers advice which – I’ll keep saying it ’til I’m blue in the face! – is a vital (and still missing) piece of the puzzle.

The fact is this: Whether the course that students sign up for is classed as “Category A”, “Type 1”, “Blue”, “Pink” or “Square”, graduates leaving university need better career advice than they are currently getting.

There was one particular quote I enjoyed, though – the bit where Mandy said, “Universities are not islands, they are not ivory towers, they have to respond to the world around them.”

Bravo, my man!

Hmm, now if only someone would suggest the government applies this thinking to some kind of policy on standards for university career advice – to give the whole sorry system the kick up the backside it needs.

You’d think that in “responding to the world around them” perhaps careers advisers might start oh, I don’t know, acknowledging that ‘jobs for life’ are over, so it makes sense to move away from this ‘Pick a career aged 21’ nonsense?

Or admitting that finding your first graduate job in the middle of a recession really, really tough going – and takes more than an internships database to fix? (Yes, I’m talking to you, Graduate Talent Pool)?

Or that right now, all around us, this teensy little thing called the digital revolution is shaking most industries to the core – and means there are no longer any cosy career guarantees for any of us, whether we’re in our twenties or our sixties?

In fact, I love that quote so much I’m going to say it again:

“Universities are not islands,

they are not ivory towers,

they have to respond to the world around them.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Now, please answer me this, Lord Mandelson:

WHEN are you going to deliver the engaging, inspiring and useful careers advice that today’s students and graduates deserve?

If you need a hand, you know where I am. Call me?

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