The future of society rests on the shoulders of students. As the next generation, students inherit the failings of the current generation, and will move into their positions of power. 84 per cent of current MPs studied at university, along with 48 of the 53 Prime Ministers in the history of the UK. This is why the attitudes and beliefs students develop through their youth are a crucial concern for the government. They bring the ideals they learn to these leading roles.
The failings of the 2010 coalition have particularly affected the student demographic; 50,000 students took to the streets to protest against the government’s decision to drive them into a lifelong debt. Their frustration was driven by the fact that this debt would deprive them of financial independence for the rest of their lives. The government claimed that 60 per cent of graduates would clear their debt before having it written off after 30 years. But the Institute of Fiscal Studies found this to be inaccurate. Their study showed that, realistically, only 27 per cent of students would ever manage this.
Coming out of university with a lifelong debt has placed students under pressure to earn; a degree has become more about employability than learning. Swansea University has started offering an Employability Award, one of many new ways to impress an employer, which is intended to enhance a CV. This is part of the growing obsession with ‘experience’ that has sprung up. It affects how students perceive their degree, and how they use their time at university.
Involvement in societies is also dictated by this obsession. Rather than being involved in a society to further a hobby, or find a community of like-minded people, being part of a society is now another prerequisite for an employer. Even the NUS, which accounts for more than 95 per cent of all further education unions in the UK, has an employability section for student societies. They claim that: ‘Taking on a position of responsibility equips you with transferable skills that can make you more attractive to prospective employers, which motivates many students to get involved’. Students have been fed the message that furthering your own prospects are of paramount importance.
Even charitable societies are driven by the need to increase an individual’s employability. For the RAG (Raising and Giving) societies in universities, transferable skills are as much of an accomplishment as charitable giving. The Loughborough RAG was honoured in the 2013 RAG awards for raising £1,404,952.28. Impressive a number as this is, it shows the value UK culture places on financial success. For RAG to measure their success in their financial gains suggests that students are coming into the workplace with the same mentality.
Ethical policies in charitable organisations have similarly been superseded by financial interests. Charity Navigator, a non-profit organisation dedicated to evaluating charities in the USA, has provided some insight into this. Amnesty International was revealed to spend 20.8 per cent of its 2012 revenue on expenses. Taking into consideration that Charity Navigators statistics are based on a Form 990, which allows for manipulation in defining ‘expenditure’, this figure may be considerably more. This shows that, despite having honourable values, Amnesty is primarily a business. A great deal of its finances are spent on maintaining the structure of its organisation, which detracts from its mission values.
It is this understanding that is affecting students’ perceptions of the world. Values are considered secondary in current culture. The government has broadcast the message that reneging on campaign promises is acceptable, and that students must place their personal interests ahead of their ethics. By doing this, the government has prepared the next generation to follow their example.