Thursday, October 12, 2006

And I Got 75% On That So They Let Me Right In…

Living as I do as an ex-pat in the North, most of my information about goings on in the south comes from the view from train windows. And if my experience of station platforms from Winchester to Wolverhampton is anything to go by, there is a least one trend that has bridged the North-South divide.

I refer of course to the incessant marketing of universities. In Granadaland we’re very much in peak season for it, which is great because no university has yet produced an advertisement that wasn’t unintentionally hilarious. To wit;

  • Salford – It’s bad enough that their official slogan is “A Greater Manchester University”, but now they’ve produced a poster that’s meant to be a painting-by-numbers key to why there are 30 great reasons to study at Salford, half of which boil down to, “Salford; It’s quite near Manchester”
  • Huddersfield – I’m sorry, I don’t care if he is the Chancellor, but it is impossible to take seriously an advert in which Captain Jean-Luc Picard tells me I should go to Huddersfield.
  • Lincoln – This advert basically shows every single building the university has with various graduates in front of them. I’ve been to that campus, and I swear it was so nondescriptly modern I didn’t recognise it till they told me where it was at the end.
  • Edge Hill – In fairness Edge Hill have updated their ad, but not so much as to remove the two key flaws it has, namely 1) that if you want me to be impressed by how many courses you offer, name-checking Sports, Business and Performing Arts isn’t going to cut it (and by the way, way to go reinforcing the stereotype!) and 2) flashing the words Liverpool and Manchester in front of me will not disguise the fact that you are in Ormskirk.

But what really gets my goat is this sudden craze for having university signs in train stations. I can think of two universities that have a legitimate excuse for this; Salford and Birmingham, and then only because they have stations on campus. For anyone else in university administration who thinks it’s clever, get your butts on the seats, zip your lips and listen hard…

In the first instance, marketing is a powerful force but it has not yet managed to raise anyone from the dead. There are only three groups of people going to university; those who want to get as far away from home as possible (there are reasons why I ended up at Manchester and this is one of them), those who want to stay as close to home as possible, and those who only bother at the last minute. The first two will research where they want to go and make an informed decision, the third will go to the university closest to where they live. Your sign on the station will matter to precisely none of these people.

Secondly, I have £14,000 worth of debt because I went to university, people starting now are likely to develop £23,000 and if you all have your way that number will be £35,000 (seriously, the Russell Group want fees to go up to £7,000), so trust me when I tell you that seeing that money pissed away on tacky signs makes me rather angry, and you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry…

More importantly, however, no-one is going to decide to both go to university and to go to a particular one because they see a sign in a station. And if they do, it might be suggested that needing to see a sign in a station to realise that the University of Reading is a higher education facility in Reading to which one may apply is a pretty good indicator of incapability as far as academia is concerned.

I am not one of those who would seek to belittle graduates of the likes of the University of Gloucestershire (not least because my sister’s at that one right now doing Early Childhood Studies, a by no means unworthy choice), but we must understand that urging universities to become ad hoc ad agencies to meet an arbitrary target is folly. Yes, we need more graduates, but the problem is not that, say, Poland is producing more graduates than we are, it is that it is producing graduates with qualifications in science, in engineering, and yes in plumbing. No degree is meaningless to the person who obtains it, but it is the government’s duty to ensure that degrees are not meaningless to the nation, and right now it is a duty they are spectacularly failing to meet.

PS I should make a special mention of the University of Southampton, who manage to have their grubby little paws on three stations, at least one of which is quite rude, as I’m fairly sure Winchester has a university of its own (not least because one of my friends is at it right now too!)

PPS There’s a special prize to anyone who can identify the two comedy references (i.e. not the Incredible Hulk one) in this entry. I have to have a little fun with it sometimes, nerd-like or otherwise!

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