Autumn is the time of year for Upper Sixth Form students across the country to make decisions about which university to apply to. They will be doing their homework and visiting as many as possible whilst trying to stay on top of their various A-Level courses. Having been a Head of Sixth Form in the past, I know how difficult those decisions can be. Get it wrong and you are stuck somewhere second rate with few job prospects, get it right and you are on the path to the best years of your life with the bright sunlit uplands ahead.
Whenever I have to make a tough decision I am always reminded of what Tony Blair said when leaving office after 10 years in power. His biggest regret, he noted, was not being bolder from the beginning. I assume he meant that, with the benefit of hindsight, the difficult decisions were perhaps not quite as tough as they seemed at the time, and the right course of action was invariably the best way, not the easy way.
Linking this to university decisions is perhaps a stretch but a valuable reminder for Sixth Form students. The choice in front of young people is extensive and for those fortunate to live in the south east it is even richer with quality options at every turn. Of course the attraction to a 16 or 17 year old is to study close to home, have mum and dad within arm’s reach and your existing friendship blanket barely out of touching distance. But could it be that living in and around London makes us blinkered to the possibilities of studying further afield? Are we perhaps apprehensive about travelling four hours on the East Coast mainline? Or, scared to experience life north of the Watford Gap?
There are many outstanding universities in cities like Manchester and Birmingham, Warwick has one of the best campuses in Europe and who could forget that St Andrews was just crowned university of the year by the Sunday Times? I would challenge all Sixth Formers to do something amazing with their limited time at university, go somewhere you know almost nothing about, study something you love and take up hobbies and pass times that you never had the courage to do at school. Like Blair said, the biggest risk is not being bolder in our decision making, this lesson is as important for Sixth Form students today as it was for New Labour over 20 years ago.