Harnessing the skills of university students and graduates


In a bid to safeguard subjects at risk due to cuts, Karen Sullivan suggests harnessing the support of university students and graduates.

Although I am no linguist, nor did I study classics, I am saddened to hear that what is thought to be the last non-selective state school in the country to offer ancient Greek at A level is considering dropping the subject. Citing funding cuts as the (obvious) reason, Camden School for Girls has suggested that parents may have to pay for the course as an “enrichment activity”, if it is to continue at all.

While ancient Greek may not seem like a massive loss (after all, it is no longer required to study classics at university), I can’t help but wonder if this is just the beginning of an unhappy decline – the first of many subjects to be dropped because of inadequate funds.

We should probably stop and think what might be next, given the continuing over-focus on STEM subjects at the expense of areas of the curriculum that support culture, creativity and what we might traditionally call vocational subjects. Narrowing education in this way does nothing towards providing balance, rigorous learning nor the options that will enhance the lives of students and, indeed, our society as a whole. 

My middle son is at University of Edinburgh studying French, linguistics and Portuguese. He volunteers for a day or two a week to teach French at a local primary school that has neither a French teacher nor the funding to provide one. Not only does he find this a rewarding and enriching experience, but he’s filling a much-needed gap in the education system. 

Should we not be utilising this type of initiative more widely? There are a great many talented, well-educated university students who could certainly lend their knowledge and understanding of subjects to provide teaching in the early secondary years – at the very least to stimulate an interest in subjects that are no longer routinely offered, and to provide grounding for further studies. 

And what about graduate students and graduates themselves? Giving up an afternoon a week would be something that larger companies could support and, indeed, encourage, to “give something back” and support an education system that is in dire need of a refocus. There’s no reason, either, why some teaching in some of the less “popular” subjects (according to the government, at least) can’t be done through distance learning, via Skype and other virtual vehicles.

Why would they do it? Well, because they had the opportunities themselves. But why not reward them, too? We’re producing a generation of students with the highest level of debt ever known, and it would be in the interests of the government to consider reducing this debt in lieu of payment.

Consider the fact that 85 per cent of graduates never repay the entirety of their loans, and it’s probably money well “spent”. And if the reduction was made in “real time” – in other words, directly affecting the monthly sum repaid – I expect that there would be a lot of takers. For graduates who are still looking for jobs, it would be a bonus to know that their overall debt is being reduced, and quite apart from anything else, it would look good on any CV. 

And think of the contribution that such a scheme could make to our students’ lives, and the breadth that could be offered to the curriculum. Architects, artists, chefs, scientists, mathematicians, linguists, creative writers, musicians, journalists, business and sportsmen and women, could all be brought in to support teaching in various subjects. Taking part in such lessons could even give students extra credits or points towards entry to institutions of higher education – and take into consideration the immense importance of role models for our young people, far too many of whom are disaffected. 

We must ensure that the UK education system remains something special, by thinking outside the box and ensuring that learning in every single subject is valued – and valuable. If I recall correctly, the ancient Greeks did...

  • Karen Sullivan is a best-selling author, psychologist and childcare expert. Email kesullivan@aol.com



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