You don’t have to look too hard to realise we live in a society where image is king.
It’s all around us, through social media influences, high street stores, the clothes we, particularly younger people, choose to wear. Image permeates right through our lives.
It’s evident too when it comes to education. Parents want their children to go to the best schools. Children want to be seen going to the best schools. It puts immense pressure on young people to succeed and pressure on parents to provide the finance to allow them to be seen to be successful.
It comes as no surprise that more of our young people want to move on to higher education. For decades that route has been seen as the best pathway to success. The belief still exists that a university degree leads to better employment chances in better paid jobs, a better future.
That’s the history of image those in the further education sector are up against.
The words come through consistently that university isn’t for everyone, that just because you don’t go to university, get your degree and pose for the family photographs at graduation doesn’t mean you haven’t been successful. The words and the reality remain at odds with each other.
There remains much work to be done if the college network is to finally sit on a level playing field alongside the universities. That’s no fault of their own. The range of courses have been improved so dramatically in the last decade, the links to the business world strengthened too. But the lure of a higher education is still the stronger pull, with statistics showing there remains a growing number of school leavers determined to experience the university life.
Perceptions remain strong that a place in a university signals success, and that’s despite the rising cost of fees and accommodation.
While it’s not a problem limited to education, and society as a whole still shapes the view of the educational world, there remains an issue that some schools place a higher importance on academic success and pupils are pushed along that path.
Until the schools themselves begin to accept that other options are equally as merited we will continue to see studying at university as the goal to aim for, with a lesser prize for coming second.
What is interesting though is that more school leavers are staying in Northern Ireland to continue their studies. It could be through the greater number of places that have been on offer, or the financial hit families would take to allow their children to study on the UK mainland or further afield.
Either way, the number of pupils still determined to head to university will give cause for concern for those who wish for a more balanced system of choice.
Image and perception need to change and that needs to begin from the bottom, in classrooms and through career guidance, before working its way up through the system and through society in general.