In a few short weeks I will begin my studies, as part of my ministry training, at the University of Cambridge, which has just been announced as the top university in the world, overtaking Harvard (located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA) for the first time since this particular survey was introduced 7 years ago (Mrs Nomad’s old university, Oxford, dropped 1 place from 5th to 6th). As a read of previous posts may have hinted, I have been to university before, both in the UK and, because of the nature of my first degree, the US. Neither of my previous institutions would come close to getting onto this recent list of the top universities in the world. I studied for my first degree at Liverpool Hope University (though it was a University College at the time and even had to fight a legal case to use that title) and, because I was studying American Studies, I did the 3rd of my 4 years at the University of Mississippi (or Ole Miss as it is often known). Ole Miss is best known for its sports (it plays top-level College Football – of the American variety, Basketball and Baseball in the SEC, one of College sport’s toughest conferences), while Hope, well to be honest Hope isn’t really known for that much at all. (My actual degree was awarded by the University of Liverpool, #121 on the recent list, as Hope was an Accredited College at the time.) I wouldn’t swap my experience at either of them for anything.
Up until now none of my educational institutions were what might be considered top flight. I went to what most people might consider a bog-standard (or even below-bog-standard) comprehensive school, and a normal, rural-area Further Education College. I had, in general, a great time at both. My teachers at the school were, on the whole and jokes put to one side, good, with some of them deliberately choosing to work at what others might describe as a difficult school. I left with well above average grades, and so did a good number of my friends. Then came college, where I let things slip. It took 2 attempts (3 years) to get A-level grades good enough to get into even Liverpool Hope, who specialise in offering opportunities to those who have potential but haven’t shown it in their A-level/BTEC/NVQ/etc. grades. This was, at least mostly, down to me and my tendency to socialise rather than study. And I will always be grateful to Hope for giving me the opportunity that they did. I left with a 2:1 degree, and a CV that included being Secretary of the Student Union and a member of the University College’s Academic Board.
British attitudes, or at least middle-class and media attitudes, towards education seem to focus on the where of education – as a church-goer I am more than a little aware of the arguments over parents who attend church in order to get their children into a good Church School (both of Wee One’s schools have been C of E but on both occasions they were also local – in the case of her old one, local to her childminder, in the case of her new one, just round the corner from here). Yet, as far as I am aware, a great deal of research (sorry, no links on this, will try to add one or two later) suggests that the single biggest factor in a child’s educational success is their parents. In other words, all those parents who expend a great deal of emotional and financial effort in getting their child into the “right” school would probably be better off expending their efforts simply supporting their child, both at home and in school, in whatever ways are best for their child’s development.
All of this is by way of saying these two things: I am proud of being able to say I will be studying at the top university in the world (at least for this year), but I am also more than happy with the previous places I ended up studying; what I want for the Wee One is not that she goes to the right school or the right university but that she is happy and well-adjusted – I will be equally happy to see her being a hairdresser or make-up artist (her current future professions of choice) as I will to see her graduate from Cambridge (or Oxford, or Harvard, or wherever) as long as she is happy doing it.
After all, it seems to me that it is the ethereal things, like happiness and love (both romantic and platonic), that really make life worth living – and educational success, just like financial success, can’t guarantee you those.