I left school at 16, and like most people of that age I had absolutely no clue what I wanted to do in life. I decided that it would be a good idea to pursue a course in Art and Design for the simple reason that I was talented at drawing. There was nothing more to my decision than that, I no inclination to pursue a career in art – I just did it because everyone else I knew was going to college, and because I was good at it. After studying at college, I decided to take a degree in Art.
For reasons I won’t go into too much detail over (basically the course was terrible) I decided to drop out after 2 years. I realised that I didn’t really want to be an artist and I had just gone down that path blindly in my youthful ignorance – it was pretty much a dead end. After a couple of years I started to realise where my true interests lie, in science, I spent a while working and spending most of my money on popular science books – and most of my spare time reading them. After being made redundant, I saw an opportunity to go back into education, and am now studying an access course in Natural Science.
Here’s where the problems come in, I realise that having already studied at HE level before my entitlement to tuition fee loans has decreased and I would only get funding for 2 years of a degree. I am expected to fund a whole years worth of tuition fees out of my own pocket. What with the tuition fee increase set for 2012 in the UK, my chances of being able to fund a years worth of tuition fees are slim to say the least. The door to university has been closed for me.
This makes me extremely angry. I know the standard response is that I should have completed my Art course, or not done it if I wanted to do science instead, but the whole problem starts with this expectation that a 16 year old should know precisely what they want to do with their lives. I had no clue what I wanted to do, I just went down a route because I was pressured to do something, so I chose an area in which I had a level of talent – there was nothing more to my decision than that. Once on a particular route the pressure is to carry on until you reach the end – so I persevered, until I got to the point where I realised that I didn’t actually want to do art for a living and that I had wasted a lot of money on a sub standard course. So now I have reached a level of maturity and have found something which I would really like to do with my life, I head down a different route and find the door slammed in my face.
I am sure there are many people in this a similar position. I think the first part of the problem is that 16 is far too young to be leaving school. Most 16 year-old people want to explore and learn about the social side of life, rather than make mature decisions about their future. Secondly the pressure that is put on you to make such decisions is not healthy, and causes people to decide rashly because they feel pressure to do something – even if they have not much of a clue what they would like to do. Thirdly this system of denying funding to those who, like me change their minds and want to do something different with their lives is destructive. Whilst I can understand that it is in place to prevent people from simply living at university for the rest of their lives, it allows no room for people like me, who are committed to undertaking a degree and making something of themselves – there must be many others in a similar position who under different circumstances might be able to contribute a lot to society, but have the door closed on them because they studied a degree in drama when they were young and had no clue what they really wanted to do. Finally the rise in tuition fees is obscene, and will deny many talented and driven people the opportunity to undertake higher education in their field of interest.
Thankfully I am currently exploring the option of studying with the Open University (which could potentially be a lot cheaper than a degree at university) – as well as looking into other things, so as yet the door is not locked shut, but I do find myself disheartened at the number of obstacles that stand between me and my ambitions.