A-Z Challenge: H — Higher Education
We, of course, once again turn to Oscar Wilde when it comes to matters of the heart or the mind. He wrote in “The Critic as Artist” (an essay revisited in C for Criticism) that “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.” Before going into university, I was told that I was potentially going to pursue one of the most impractical degrees and that instead, I should do something more useful, like go into marketing or I.T. (I remember a family member asked me: “Perhaps a teacher?”) because that was a thing to do, and god forbid someone dedicates their time to the arts.
Novelist and poet, Théophile Gautier, wrote how “The only things that are really beautiful are those which have no use” and that “the most useful place in the house is the lavatory.” You may wish to argue with this statement and point out art’s many social functions (you would be in good company alongside Charles Dickens and George Orwell), but there was something liberating when I came across this quote which I discovered shortly after I had stumbled on Oscar Wilde. Choosing to study literature in a fundamentally instrumentalist society, obsessed with what is useful or practical, made me feel less guilty.
Though I was lucky enough to pursue an undergraduate degree while juggling at some point three jobs (from waitress to library assistant to estate agent), not everyone has the privilege to attend university. Here, let me be clear: I do not think that attending university is that important if that is not something you want to do, but everyone should be given the option and have the right to pursue higher education.
There is a new conundrum in academia too, and that is whether some universities should implement separate exams or higher entry requirement for potential students (since the students getting top marks on their A-Levels seem to be on the rise). This could potentially further disadvantage students from ethnic minorities. According to P. Brug and T. L. Oliver, “[u]nderperformance among ethnic minority students is often seen to reflect a cycle of poverty, whereby children are born into poor families, live in socially deprives areas, go to poorer-quality schools, tend not to go to university and get low-paying jobs, and so the cycle regenerates itself.”
While every university that accepts a student should be in a position to support them in order to provide an equal chance of graduating, this doesn’t seem to be the case. I know that the thought of not being in academia terrified me. Being in academia terrifies me too, as I often feel like I don’t belong. Merely having the choice to attend university shouldn’t be an opportunity, but rather an entitlement that transcends race, class, and gender.
Written by Elena Zolotariov, IES PhD Candidate
Check out the other A-Z Challenge participants as well!