Wasted on the young?

Thanks (entirely, I am sure) to the outside-but-internal assistance of Daniel, our broadband problems seem to have gone away. If it wasn’t for his help, I feel we would never have penetrated BT down to the technical level necessary to investigate and fix the issue. As of this morning we have a massive 6.9 Mbs. Thanks Daniel.

So now I need to find something else to moan talk about.

I could moan talk about a chronic piece of insomnia that hit me in the early hours of yesterday morning, but what would be the point of that?

Besides, I was productive whilst I was awake; I wrote an album review which even now, in the light of Monday morning, doesn’t look too shabby.

I also had the urge to get out my acoustic guitar and have another go at killing Radiohead’s ‘Karma Police’ to death, but I didn’t think Sophie would appreciate the 3.30am musical session. So I resisted.

Gemma came around in the afternoon, which was nice; we drove in to Huffkins in Witney, drank Latte and ate lunch.

Those who listen to our podcast will know Gemma as our occasional co-presenter, the slightly dippy mentalist, ‘Pigeon Girl’.

While Gem took a few hours to buy some loo roll, Soph and I went to see Knight and Day which was, you know, OK. If you leave your brain at home.

Afterwards, when all three of us were walking back to the car, Gemma told us how she passed the time; reading, mostly. And being annoyed by people. She’s so much like Sophie and me in a number of ways…

When we got back home a small garden spider scuttled over the doorstep. Gemma shrieked, ‘Is that a scorpion?’

I was put on immediate ‘Spider/scorpion Repatriation Duty’ and eventually corralled the wee timorous beastie underneath the dining-table, before shoving the poor little creature out in to the garden.

Poor bugger, it probably only came in to use the bog. Or steal some of Gemma’s freshly-acquired loo roll.

You know how people get their eyes lasered to improve their sight? Well I’m thinking of getting my brain lasered, because as sure as eggs is eggshaped there’s something not quite right in my head, because I keep having random but in-depth thoughts like…

We know that university places in the UK have been restricted on a gradually diminishing curve – and that this year there has been a greater restriction on university places than that curve could have predicted.

We also know that there’s been a significant increase in the number of school-pupils who have attained the highest possible marks in their ‘A-levels’ on an almost corresponding, increasing curve.

But what is the source of the secret intelligence briefing that seems to have been beamed directly in to the heads of the 40,000 pupils, who are amongst the 48,500 who failed to get a university place; the 40,000 pupils who have declared that they are backing away from education for (and I quote one such former pupil in Saturday’s Guardian) ‘a bit of an enforced gap year’?


I was having a conversation with such a student a few days ago. I know her very well, she’s not dim by any stretch of the imagination; obviously disappointed at not getting anything on her preference list, and having no luck with clearing, she has decided on taking a last-minute gap year. She’s convinced she’ll get ‘in’ next year.

Oh. Not dim, but lacking a degree of foresight! Logic tells me that next year it will be significantly more difficult to find university places.

I wonder about these 40,000 students who are, if the reports are correct, opting for an unplanned gap year.

Do these people imagine that this year’s difficulty will just go away, in some Scooby-Doo, wavy-line kind of way, in just twelve months? Have they not considered the all-too-likely possibility that if they couldn’t get the places they wanted when competing against this year’s crop of school-leavers, then the competition for places next year, when the exit grades are likely to reach yet another ‘all time high’, is likely to be incrementally more severe?

Certainly, all my reading on this so far, would seem to indicate that none, or almost none, of these unplanned ‘gap-yearers’ have considered the massive scope of the probable log-jam likely to occur next year. Almost none of them seem to be considering what they might do now, to mitigate against an even more competitive placement environment, which, in twelve months time, will be struggling to copy with even more ‘A-Level’ passes of even higher standards.

I’m not having a winge about students, as such. I’m just taking in to account the mass of scholastic, academic and economic evidence that is in the public domain, looking at the cycles that have established themselves over the last ten years, adding just a smidge of common sense and extending that to the next twelve months.

Really, I don’t see an improvement. The admission models of the UK’s established universities – not just those in the Russell Group – are based on certain constants, with marginal allowance for key variables.

The problem is that within the last five years almost every factor in the admission model has become a variable. Variable funding, variable research grants, variable application numbers, variable ‘A-level’ results, etc, ad nauseam.

One of my clients is NERC, and their funding has been cut back significantly. this has a direct effect on universities, because NERC is the funding clearing centre for environmental science.

Within the last six months, identically restricted situations have come to exist in BBSRC, EPSRC and ESRC.

It seems logical that without an increased funding variable at the other end of the student pipeline, the amount of traffic (students) that goes in to the pipeline has to be harshly culled.

I suggested, to the disappointed student, that she opted for a 12-month course at a nearby college, ideally studying a subject with an identifiable relationship to her degree choice. Or failing that, I suggested, spent the year on an arts/media course – to throw herself in to a new subject.

She met both suggestions with indifference; the choices, in her head, are her chosen subject at her chosen universities or a gap year.

I hope that, in twelve months time, she won’t be bitterly disappointed. But the evidence tells me that she’ll be one of, potentially, 80,000 candidates who will be surplus to requirements.