Student and Graduate Publishing

Should Universities Encourage or Discourage?

Tuesday, 14 October 2014 15:05

By Emily Lanham

 - Universities are educational institutes, offering courses intended to set you up for the rest of your life. They pride themselves on careers services and giving you the extra support you need to succeed.

If they’re offering courses that are vocational, it seems only natural that they would offer a nurturing and encouraging environment in which you can flourish and achieve your dreams. Is that always appropriate, though?

Within some subjects there are many career paths to be considered; some more risky than others. Is it a University’s job to encourage a student to follow the path they want to, or is it their job to discourage them and guide them to a more fail-safe career?

At a basic level, universities often do the former. We know that there is an overabundance of courses on offer ranging from puppetry to waste management and dance. Unless set on a very specific career path, these are surely subjects that will hold little weight for employers. Yet universities will happily accept £9,000 a year for students to study.

If that’s the case, then a University should follow this up by giving a student the best contacts and opportunities that they can within that subject. I am sure some of them do, I have little experience. The problem comes within the subjects that have more than one possible career path. Take law for example. Within the legal profession there are two basic possible career routes: solicitor and barrister. 

Both are competitive routes and I think it’s right, therefore, that universities expect so much of candidates in terms of entrance grades. It should be stressed from the start that it is a difficult and challenging career path.

In my undergraduate degree, a lot of emphasis was put on the solicitor route. There were fantastic links, events and even specific modules designed to make each student as employable as possible. The barrister route was entertained less. There were, for a start, fewer potential candidates and  a northern location, granted, can sometimes make it difficult to explore so many options. 

The state of the job market for the independent Bar is much worse than it is for solicitors. The future is unclear and the cuts to funding mean that fewer and fewer people are being given permanent jobs and the threshold for entry to the Bar is getting is even higher. 

Universities consequently, have a confused opinion on the Bar. Most tutors and lecturers are often practitioners of the subject they are teaching, and have succeeded in various different roles. That seems true for most undergraduate courses. As a result, many may warn against the routes in which students are less likely to succeed, whilst reminiscing with fondness about their own success. 

That being said, the nature of studying  a vocational course like law, or physiotherapy, means that students are bound to want to explore many avenues of that career. If they make that choice, a university should make sure to do the best that they can for each and every one of them. False hope is not necessary but a student should assess their own abilities and be discouraged only through a realistic assessment of their success during applications. It is likely that a student will make the decision to change to a safer route through their own experiences; it isn’t the university’s place. After the University has made the decision to accept a student, they should have faith in their ability to succeed. If that was ever in doubt, they shouldn’t have been accepted on to the course in the first place. 


Emily Lanham is a law graduate currently working as a paralegal in a London Chambers and independently with Burton Copeland solicitors, based in Manchester and London ( She embarks on the BPTC part time in September 2014.

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