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A bleary outlook for 18-year-olds

PUBLISHED: 17:01 02 September 2010 | UPDATED: 09:50 16 September 2010

SOME time today, 18-year-olds will emerge from their bedrooms with sore heads from the night before.

Celebrating or drowning their sorrows, real life for them starts here.

SOME time today, 18-year-olds will emerge from their bedrooms with sore heads from the night before.

Celebrating or drowning their sorrows, real life for them starts here.

A-levels good or bad, reality stares them in their pasty faces when they surface from the duvet.

Twenty-eight years ago I was doing the same. Nursing a sore head after a tour of Lowestoft pubs with my friends, all celebrating the slip of paper that determined our destiny. Only our pub rounds were completed by bicycle. Gloss, glamour and hair straighteners hadn't reached 18-year-olds in 1982.

Twenty-eight years might be barely a blink in time but the historical nano-second might as well be centuries separating us. The hangover is about all we have in common.

Firstly, to achieve an A grade in 1982 was fairly amazing. Few and far between in Lowestoft sixth forms when top grades demanded 70pc-plus and those who bagged one or more were pretty damn special. B grades were prized and hard work to get.

Secondly, A-levels were a very different beast. Course work, modules, re-taking modules or AS levels didn't exist. After two years of study, grades rested on long exams in May and June.

Months hibernating in bedrooms for massive amounts of cramming and revision, learning and regurgitating huge chunks of set texts. Brains were saturated but those long quotations remain with us today. Then off to university went the Class of 82 armed with big fat cheques from the county council. The Student Grant. A historical term in itself now.

A full grant was about £3,500, a King's ransom in those days, to pay for the life of riley at the taxpayers' expense. The country needed graduates, the country had to pay for them.

Nobody questioned why we should be paid to lie in bed half the day for three years, go to a couple of lectures a week and make a final sprint at final exam time. We took the money and slept.

The savvy student chose a northern city governed by an altruistic red flag administration to make the grant go further. The more left wing the council, the cheaper the life. Buses anywhere for 10p left more for beer, clubs and books.

No one dreamed of staying at home to study. The whole point was to escape, live the life and bring sackfuls of washing home for mum. We could even sign on the dole in holiday time if we didn't get a job. It was all free. The very idea of paying tuition fees would have been preposterous. Paying to develop our minds for the good of the country? Blooming cheek.

Graduates had no debt - £200 at the most - and that would be down to extravagance and flighty living.

But then we were the five percenters. The privileged few. The tiny proportion that got to university.

Then, everyone knew they'd end up in the job they wanted, more or less. No worries.

Any 18-year-old clutching their results today anguishing whether a sociology degree at the University of Luton will be worth the £24,000 debt will read this and curse: “Jammy beggars.”

1982 really was a different world.

The words “free”, “grant” and “job” will grate on the Blair generation brought up to believe that 50pc of the population could go to university.

No one from the 80s would wish to be 18 today. Facing huge debt - just £13,000 could buy a terraced house in Bevan Street in 1982- to stay in their childhood bedroom to study something for three years with little hope of a job at the end. And the point is?

And that's if they can even find a university place. Even with three A grades and no place, they have to accept they're not that special after all.

Even part-time jobs to help them make a dent in the huge debt are scarce.

When 24,000 applicants chase 221 BT apprenticeships, and universities are turning away the brightest, something is desperately wrong.

While the savvy once chose the north, today they are snapping up jobs with the big employers after A-levels, hoping to be sponsored for degrees later.

RIP learning for learning's sake.

It's a grim outlook for these 18-year-olds, however they look at it through bleary eyes today.

I wish I could say it will get better.

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