Do we give students enough?

A couple of weeks ago I found myself giving the opening keynote at the Association of Graduate Recruiters development conference as a TEDx style talk (ie around 18 minutes).  Held in London and at a rather swish conference centre there were about 200 delegates.   It was all about how one develops the skills in newly recruited graduates.   Interestingly during the short break I spoke to number of those delegates, a great many of whom were not graduates themselves and when asked why they had decided not to go to University, pretty well all replied that they had preferred to ‘get stuck in’ to work and to learn by doing.

That thought stuck with me as I opened the careers day at the Stockholm School of economics.  SSE has two campuses, one in Stockholm and a smaller one in Riga, Latvia.  I was in Latvia at their excellent campus building.  It’s a small University; less than 400 students in total from all over the world, lecturers and tutors drawn from a global community and which receives support from the Soros Foundation.  George Soros, one might recall, is credited as being the man who brought to an end Britain’s membership of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism: his financial clout was greater than the UK’s ability to maintain the exchange rate.  At that careers day there were some 50 organisations, ranging from Facebook and Google (their first foray into SSE) and EY, KPMG and the raft of Blue Chip organisations all eager to attract and recruit from this hugely prestigious business school.

But when I say that SSE has students from all over the world, there is one country from which there are no students.  The UK.  And it’s not a matter of fees: SSE fees are around 5,000 euros per year which includes books and other material: living expenses are around a further 3,000 euros and the entire course is taught in English.

No, the reason why there are no students from the UK is quite simple.  No one has ever applied.  And that made me really wonder.  I asked the Director of Studies why that was.  She really did not know: she thought that a few UK students would be useful for all parties: SSE is very multicultural to a UK perspective adds richness, and it’s highly regarded: It’s in the FT top 20 business schools in the world so UK students would gain a great education.

But that got me thinking even more about the journey for UK students.  There’s currently a great deal of discussion about University fees running at £9,000 per year – but that of course is not the case throughout the UK.  Similarly other countries do not have the same charges.  No, I fear that this is a matter of simply not knowing what possibilities there are.

I was in Lithuania a day after leaving Riga, where I was co-hosting TEDx Vilnius (more of that in another blog).  One of the unpaid, volunteer, organisers had just secured a place in New York to take a further degree in drama and performing arts.  The fees were some USD 50,000 and she proudly advised me that she had secured a scholarship bringing the fees to half that amount.  But she had been really ferocious in her selection of where to study to spend her money on the course – “invest, not simply spend”, she retorted.  She was not going to accept mediocrity as she would have to take additional jobs just to cover fees and living costs as she did not have parents who could afford that sort of money.  It was her investment in her future and she would make sure that her hard earned money would be well spent.

And that brought me back to the UK and SSE and that no applications had been received from UK students.  No, it was not a matter of fees: perhaps it was a fear of travelling all the way to Riga to take a course in English surrounded by English speaking other students or perhaps it was just that students had not thought about it.  At all.  And perhaps their schools had never thought of advising that there are other Universities in the world and that some offered much better value.

Or maybe that the drive which Ruta in Lithuania clearly showed, was just much stronger than so many UK students.

I wonder if we are offering our bright eyed 17 year olds real guidance as to how they can make the most of the enormous set of opportunities which await them.

After all, there are over 3,000 Universities in the EU alone.  So I wonder whether our schools in the UK have the resources to guide our young people in their selection of University, other training schemes whether or to “get stuck in”.