As an employer I have constantly had cause to marvel at the poor presentation and writing skills of many of the young people applying for work. Application forms have been littered with errors and CV’s badly written. Perhaps surprisingly some of these applicants have been graduates and when I look back to my own days at university I have wondered how they have been despatched into the world so ill equipped. I was forced to question whether university had changed dramatically over the years and now that a good friend of mine has started his degree I am beginning to see that it has.
I first became concerned when another friend’s daughter showed me some of her A level course work. Course work formed a major element of her final grades and she was writing about the subjects, handing the work in and then never having to return to them to revise for exams. Everything was written on a laptop and some of the examinations were nothing more than multiple choice questions where you tick a box. Hardly the format most likely to inspire thought and creative writing!
When this particular young lady came to write her personal statement for her UCAS application she asked me to check it and I was forced to comment that she should throw it away and start again. The composition was very poor, lacked direction and was littered with errors. You would have thought that it had been written by a struggling student but she went on to achieve A*, A, B. It is a controversial issue this but I have to say that from what I have witnessed the A level benchmark is somewhat lower than in years gone by!
Sadly the same may well be true of university. As I write this my friend is nearly four weeks into his course and has not been asked to produce a single piece of work yet. There is little essay writing involved on his course and he informs me that there are regular tests performed online which contribute to his final grade and these are multiple choice. This seems almost like remote learning and I can’t understand how someone’s true grasp of a subject or their written skills can possibly be assessed by ticking boxes. To make matters worse students are encouraged to take their laptops and tablets to lectures for note taking and they don’t even really need to do that because the lectures are published online too.
Don’t get me wrong I am all for technological advancements and I have no issue with using a computer to produce your work but only after you have acquired the necessary writing and presentation skills and students must be assessed on the quality of their composition not just the facts that they can recall. Surely they should also need to do a lot more than listen to lectures to gain a degree. When I was at university I had to produce 3 pieces of written work each week and I took paper and pen to lectures and used them again to complete my assignments. I made regular trips to the stationery store not PC World and there certainly weren’t any multiple choice exams en route to my degree.
I really think this issue needs a thorough investigation. What use is an honours degree if you can’t fill out an application for work with any level of competence? How poor is our education system if the star performers struggle to compose a short piece about themselves? I wish I could return to university to undertake another degree myself. It would be very interesting to see how I got on!
Sally Stacey is a keen writer and business owner who divides her time between writing and running her retail operation.