As a late adopter, I commenced university in the mid 1990s. Like many others, I was the first of my clan to park my behind on an educational seat, if you can class the former borstal, Southbank, as such an establishment. Far from being a stereotypical student, I was in my mid 20s, lived on a charming council estate in the Elephant called Newington Butts with my then girlfriend, and had an eccentric homeless former accountant living inside a skip outside my front bay window.

Lectures were infrequent with around 30 per cent cancelled for no reason whatsoever, while lecturers would spend valuable learning time, when they should have been teaching us about the Boston Matrix, directing uprisings against ‘the man’. It was a hotbed of political activism and I often had to trip over the great unwashed as they manned Socialist Worker stalls advocating revolution on my way to the union bar. I disagreed with many of their causes, and it was somewhat unnerving when their unabated wrath was solely directed at me while suffering from the latest in a long line of hangovers. Through the fog, they would attempt to convince you to subscribe to their newsletter or undertake a dirty protest outside the local MP’s office, I forget which.

Nowadays it is the rule, not the exception, that kids go to university. For some, it is the ‘kudos’ and the belief that the only way to excel is to gain a university education with which to maximise future life chances. From my experience, the education received is nowhere near that experienced in schools, with many A-levels being more challenging than submitting the odd assignment and being lectured to by an individual who often does not want to be there having modelled their delivery skills on Dennis Norden.

With competition comes lack of opportunity. Workplaces and dole queues are littered with intelligent folk, who, due to no fault of their own, will reach a very low ceiling as every bugger has the same level of educational attainment as they. Add to that, if they do manage to find employment, they will not only have to pay the outrageous tuition fees back, but also maintenance grants to the Student Loans Company, or whatever name they are operating under these days.

Get a degree and fall into a job you could most likely have got without a degree, but now saddled with tens of thousands of debt after being royally mugged by the education system you paid for a premium product, but which delivered a fake, a dud - the type you see on Rogue Traders.

Forget the degree, unless it is a real ‘niche’ such as art with Sanskrit. It’s now not so much about the learning, but the location. The one important factor is to attend a Russell Group university even if you are studying David Beckham Studies. There are however, certain professions where a degree is a prerequisite, such as mine, but a reputable university gives you what others generally don’t: options.

You will come out with debt, yes, but as a Cambridge or Oxford graduate, the world really is your oyster, you should pay the debt of in double quick time and may be one of the rare twentysomething home owners not relying on the state or the bank of mum and dad to get on the first rung.

I don’t envy kids today. They are up against it while attempting to get ahead. Universities seem to be little other than a cash cow, many of whom offer a shoddy service at a blue riband price with no guarantees for the future. Judging submissions is harder as universities want to be seen to be successful, with many students copying others' work or even buying completed assignments online to give them even more downtime with which to enjoy their first real taste of autonomy and freedom.

That said, I believe the case now was the same then, as to one of the main drivers for attending university: the experience. I miss the days morphing into each other as I forged friendships, played pool until my arms ached and drank enough second-rate lager to sink the Bismarck.

  • Brett Ellis is a teacher