Earlier today, the Guardian reported that "Some UK universities are considering awarding students in all subjects extra marks to their degrees if they can show "corporate skills" or experience in the jobs market". The essential gist of this article is that several Universities are experimenting with ideas based around increasing the grades of students who can carry out work placements and similar things during the course of their degree.
This concept is suggested not just for those degrees that associate with a particular career -such as teaching or engineering - as these degrees already require a certain amount of work experience. This is acceptable, and indeed common sense; it is necessary to have practical experience teaching children, and for your abilities in such a field to be tested before a teaching diploma is granted. But this scheme looks at applying a similar idea to English degrees.
This scheme is proposed along what seems to be a positive line of thought; students go to University to prepare for work, so encouraging them to gain more skills that would help them in the workplace is praiseworthy.
But this is not the case. The point of University is not to prepare students for the world of work. The point of University is to teach students a particular subject. In some cases, for instance a Marketing degree, these two issues overlap and teaching becomes a preparation for the workplace. But the point of many degrees, especially Arts degrees such as English, is to teach about a specialised area. I study History. Last semester, for instance, I studied Inter-war Europe. I did not study anything that was particularly marketable - unless, of course, I choose to work in the field of Inter-war European history. Of course, I developed many skills that will probably help me in the workplace - public speaking, writing and so on. But the point of this course was not to develop these skills for monetary gain. It was to develop these skills, a worthy goal in itself.
What this development would mean for Universities is that they would, once again, take a step towards simply being marketing tools, a place to turn young people into workers. The value of a University degree is how much money it can make for the holder, when the real value of the degree should be about the learning itself - the spread of culture and knowledge. If this helps a student find a job, then this is good. But it should not be the sole purpose of a degree. Similarly, if students want to earn workplace experience while studying for a degree, this should certainly be encouraged, but with a better diploma.
At my University, and doubtless every other university around the country, there are a number of mature students. One of them is an elderly woman, perhaps in her 70s or 80s. This illustrates my point - Firstly, Universities are not exclusively a way for young people to gain a better job. Many mature students go to university to enhance themselves, to develop through learning. It is stupid to assume that young people do not want the same thing. Ask this 80 year old woman why she is studying for a degree; I doubt the answer will be because she wants to earn more money.
This scheme is Capitalism at its worst. Learning should be worthwhile in of itself, and forcing English students to gain work experience to get a better grade is patronizing and distracting. The job of a University is to teach, and while facilities should be available to help students prepare for "real" work, it should be up to them when and if they use them. You have no idea why they are studying, or what kind of life they want to get out of their degree, and you have no right to dictate that their studies should be aimed singularly at ways of making money.