The new academic year is well and truly underway in pretty much every university everywhere and for most of us, academics and students alike, it’s a very hectic and, in some ways, exciting time as we meet our new students eager (hopefully) to learn new skills, put the finishing touches and generally come to grips with the new timetable and the bizarre room allocations which see us trekking to the most far flung outposts of the campus.
This year, however, I’ve noticed that we have a lot more students than we had last year and it’s gotten me wondering why. Last year, I don’t think anyone was surprised at the lower numbers because it came in the midst of the hysteria about the global recession and nobody was certain about anything. In such a climate, you can understand the reluctance of people to commit to the expense of higher education. Why would you leave a job to go back to university when there’s a chance you might not find another one for a while?
But while this explains what happened last year, it doesn’t explain this year. Now, we’ve all come to terms with the recession and most of the feelings of shock, horror and panic have gone, giving way instead to a grim acceptance that the economy will be in tatters for years to come and employment prospects are going to be quite dismal unless you do something beef up your arsenal with some new qualifications.
Are people realising that the best place to sit out a recession is in university? After all, providing you have the money set aside or can get a big enough loan, going back to university full-time means you have at least one full year where you don’t have to worry about whether you’re going to be made redundant. From my own experience here in Sheffield (which is purely speculative and by no means conclusive) this seems to be borne out in part by the make-up of students. We are seeing fewer international students but a lot more European students, particularly UK students. This would seem to suggest that the scarcity of money is causing people to reconsider the expensive business of foreign study; international students pay much higher fees than UK or EU students. But it does suggest that UK students are doing the sensible thing during a recession and waiting it out in the relative calm of university. I’d also wager that the same thing is happening in many other countries. By the time they’re ready to go back to the real world, they’ve survived another year of doom and gloom with their sanity relatively intact and they’ve acquired some new skills which will give them the chance to either change career direction or rejoin the workplace with a competitive advantage. It’s really not a bad idea at all!