As students battle to bag a place at oversubscribed colleges: Is it social death to let your teen skip university?
At dinner time we serve two kinds of wine: undergraduate wine and graduate wine. The latter is superior and only given to those who have a degree. Sometimes, on special occasions, those in the process of completing a degree are allowed some, but it is under no circumstances offered to any of our combined five children who might foolishly shun the idea of higher education.
It never occurred to me that my offspring who would choose a vocational path rather than go to uni. Why would you want to miss out on such a fabulous time? Not to mention the improved career prospects. Having worked as a head-hunter in the media industry I have seen many fabulous candidates dismissed purely on the basis that they haven’t been to university.
I was utterly dismayed when not one but two of our daughters decided, half-way through their A Levels, that education wasn’t for them. I admit there was a snobbish element involved. I used to dread friends asking what they were doing because I couldn’t bear to tell them the truth. I got so fed up trying to circumnavigate the honest response of ‘waitressing’ or ‘dog walking’ that at one point I thought I might just lie and say that while one was reading law at Oxford, the other one was studying medicine at Cambridge. A particular low point came when one of my daughters was recognised (we look very similar) by an old university chum she was waitressing for at a private dinner.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against menial work, but there must be a point to it. Waitressing is something you do while you’re studying. It’s not a career. I wouldn’t be in favour of an apprenticeship either. If we’d wanted our children to become plumbers or electricians, we wouldn’t have spent every penny we had on private education, although come to think of it, a company of posh plumbers might do rather well.
By not going to university a person hugely limits his or her options, which is why we have always been so insistent.
Everyone wants to give their child the best possible start in life, and a university education is just that. It’s a (relatively) safe place to bridge the gap between childhood and adulthood, it’s great fun and they might learn something too.
I’m happy to say I no longer cringe when people ask me what the girls are doing because they’re finally at university. Although I do sometimes question their motivation. I overheard one of them being asked recently why she decided to return to her studies. ‘I want to drink better wine,’ came the reply.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi-based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor-in-chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is working on a thriller set in Sweden as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
In 2022 her short story The Japanese Gardener came second in the Fish Publishing Short Story Prize. One of her stories was also shortlisted for the Bridport Short Story Prize. When she’s not writing, she works as a headhunter for the media and entertainment industry for the Sucherman Group.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004 Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback) All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006 Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007 Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006 Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007 So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai) More, More France; Gibson Square 2009 To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish) The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009 Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011 The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013 Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016 The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016 Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018 The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019