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Monday, 1 March 2010

'University Challenged'

Before we being the usual ramblings I would like to state that I have just consumed some dodgy chicken dippers and my stomach appears to have decided to consume itself rather than let the dippers do it in.

As I am typing this, it is making the most intense growling and gurgling noises, serving as a pre-warning to the immense feeling of shittyness that I will be experiencing throughout the next 24 hours.

Also, for the hell of it, my left ring finger has decided to start bleeding around the cuticle.

This could be a firm indication that I am not to eat unknowingly tainted poultry products and that I am being punished for not having taken a further education by not having the 'smarts' to do so.

Which in a roundabout way brings me to the subject of todays blog.

My name is Ben Cordell and I did not attend university.

'But your vocabulary is extensive, your writing is so eloquent and your blog topics contain such worldy affairs' I hear you cry.

True, but I also eat bad chicken.

When meeting new people, I often get asked what university I attend(ed) and am quite often met with looks of surprise when I state that I didn't attend university.
I don't think this is because of how I present myself or of their knowledge of my skills but more to do with the social stigmatism of someone who hasn't attended university.

It's considered a social norm.

You grow up. Go to school Go to college. Go to university. Get a good job. Get married. Have kids. Get old. Die.

We all know this walk of life.

But there's always one part of that process that makes me smile.

'Go to university. Get a GOOD job.'

We are built with a pre-conception that you need to attend university in order to get, in whatever sense you wish to interpret the phrase, a 'good job'.

There have been many successful people who do or did not possess a university education. Some didn't even possess a basic education, so where do we come up with this idea that in order to be successful, you need to attend university?

I deem myself to be semi successful.
I have a full time semi-skilled job, I rent my own place and I still work on my career in film-making.

But I did not attend university.
I barely attended 6th Form College.

6th Form College appealed to me as students get the opportunity to select their own curriculum.
This made total sense to me as towards the end of secondary school I was getting bored by having to learn subjects I just wasn't interested in.
'Let them learn what they want to learn, that way they can't become disinterested and get bad grades'.
I believe the same ideal ties in with university.

This would have all worked out fine for me except for a few problems.

I was 'persuaded' to take English Literature because of my good grades and was promised lots of creative writing. This wasn't the case and arguments with my Eng Lit tutor leading to a stern drop in attendance.

Media Studies at 'A Level' grade felt the same as GCSE Media Studies, so again my attention wandered until the practicals came around and I got to utilise my skills and passions, which would frequently pay off.

Film Studies was a given for me but my tutor had to call for technical help when trying to operate a DVD player, so you can imagine my feelings towards that aspect of my education.

Theatre Studies was a secondary option to Photography.
Now I wish I had pushed for it more as it would be a lot more useful to me now as opposed to learning Stanislavskian acting techniques, however I did meet a lot of good people, especially Mr Ed Hallwood who also shared my passion for film and shared similair aspirations of cinema glory.
He now teaches English is Vietnam and is still the sickest freestyle rapper I know.

My experience at 6th Form for me was an insight into what university had in store for me.

I remember towards the end everyone had begun starting to look at universities, talk about prospectus', go to open days and stress about the grades they needed to get in.

This all just breezed by me.
Maybe it was the my battle with alcohol at the time or perhaps I was just desperate to try and get out of this part of education with something relatively decent to show for it that I didn't care what came after.

I think I looked at 2 universities during my final year at BHASVIC.
One was the New York Film Academy and the other was a school in Canada.

They were obviously both incredibly unrealistic options but I think I felt that I needed to look to convince myself that university, or any sort of further education, is not what I wanted but I think I wanted to check just to fit in (back to the social norm!).

In my last year I had taken some great steps towards reaching my goal of breaking into the film business.

I had worked as a runner and assistant adjudicator on a game show at London Television Studios.
I had started up my own 'production company' titled 'Cathartic Studios' and was shooting live videos for bands I knew (as you know, I still run this company now and progressed onto shooting live videos for bands I didn't know, as well as some non-linear interview pieces).
A friend of the family, Guy Feldman, started giving me editing work and became a mentor to me. He eventually scored me a junior editor position at 'Back2Back Productions' in Brighton where I got to work on the Paul Potts piece that was shown on ITV and got my first national credit and admittance to the IMDB.
Closer to home, my practical pieces had picked up great grades and 'BHASVICTORS', which are basically awards the college gives out and I had curbed my drinking.

Everything out in the real world seemed to be working out great.
I didn't need to stay in education.

These were steps to being successful.

The majority of my friends went off to university, either to better themselves or as my dear friend Dave Wells stated, 'put off the inevitable'.
A few stayed behind or travelled to far off lands, to either 'find themselves' or...put off the inevitable.

I was one of the ones who stayed behind. In a sense.

I attended 'The School Of Life' (or 'The Cheesy Cliche Academy')

For me, only two types of people go to university.
Those who want to better their education and those who want to put off 'real life' and I didn't fit into either of those categories.

My passion for film-making took me all across the UK and I got to see some incredible things, and a lot of disturbing things too (touring with bands is an experience for sure).
I got to meet new people and made some amazing new friends who am still very close to.

Unfortunately as I grew, the place in which I grew up got much smaller and soon wasn't enough for me anymore.
After about a year, film-making wasn't taking me to these places anymore and the new 'big' me (quite literally as well. The School Of Life involves a terrible diet!) was stuck in the the small place.

I went back to familiar territory and started to film local bands again to gain some income and keep the portfolio growing but it soon wasn't enough for my Mum and Step-Dad and I was told I had to get a real job.

I was a builder. I worked as a checkout operator and eventually landed at Addaction as a Modality Administrator. And I'm still there today.

So what if I didn't go to university and what I'm doing right now isn't anything to do with film making? Does that make me unsuccessful?

In the years since the end of college to now, I have pursued my career, travelled the country, met the girl I want to spend my life with, got my own place and I am still working towards hitting my dream career.

In the years since the end of college to now, friends of mine have dropped out of college, stayed on because they still don't know what to do and graduated and are in exactly the same position I am. And they still have to do everything I just did.

I'm not saying university is right or wrong.
It gives people an option.

An option to better there education.
An option to increase their career prospects.
An option to put off 'real life' for just a bit longer.
An option to not go to university.

Just because someone hasn't attended university it doesn't mean they will be unsuccessful.

It just means they've probably got better things to do.


  1. I do get what you're saying but I think you missed out a vital point at the end. I went to university because I literally had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew it was within the performing arts, so I took a course that encompassed backstage work, technical work, the business side, even marketing.

    It's a shoddy course and I hate the city I'm in now, and sometimes I really wonder why I bothered, but then I remember that now I know what I want to do in my life, and I wouldn't have discovered that without being at university. Plus, living in halls was pretty sweet. Some people know what they want to do straight out of college (lucky!), and if that involves getting a degree then they get one, and if it doesn't then they don't, but I think the reason so many people go to university is because they just haven't got a clue what they want to do in life.

    I'm still trying to decide whether that's enough outcome for £20k worth of debt.

  2. Good thing about uni, (well my business school anyhoo) is that they help you step into the direction that you would like to go. For instance im applying for Warner Bros next year to help market the new Harry Potter movies and would no way have known this or be eligible if i wasnt at uni.
    unfortunatly a lot of companies seem to want uni grades these days which i think is a bit shit cause there are some very creative people out there who won't get the chance to shine because they dont have that bit of paper.
    It's a shame but i guess you gotta play there game atm until the tides turn.

  3. I totally agree with you both.

    Elly, I think you are one of the special ones who goes to uni and finds this.
    You're a very positive person anyway so I can't say I'm surprised that you saw the silver lining in this all.
    Me being me though looked at the prospect of spending £20k to put off the inevitable or making £20k and going it alone. That's just logical ol' me :)

    Stu, I had a a similar debate with a friend of mine before he went to uni about what matters more experience or qualifications and it ended in a stalemate.
    The one thing I was told over and over by people who have already 'made it' in the creative industry is that it is who you know that will help you get ahead, and that is the path I took.
    I also share your distaste for the amount of weight that companies put into uni grades.
    For me, a grade in a subject shows that someone is really good at hitting the points needed for that curriculum and without decent experience it's not worth much. That is my opinion though and I am not trying to devalue the merit of a degree in any way, it is a massive achievement.

    As long as we all keep playing the game, there's no way we can lose :)

    Thanks for reading. Really appreciate it when people take the time to read and comment.

  4. I really wanted to go to Uni when I was at school. I think mainly because of the freedom of not living at home and because TV shows make it look cool.

    Unfortunately it all came around so quickly that I chose a random degree that I didn't enjoy but slogged through it so I could get it over and done with. I did have some brilliant times though and my 1st year was one of the best years of my life. It sort of went downhill from there though!

    However, I wouldn't have been able to apply for my current job if I didn't have a degree and this job has put me right in the Media industry which is where I always wanted to be. My degree (Criminology & Sociology) has very little to do with the Media industry but meh, I'm not complaining! If I'd done a Media degree like I actually wanted, I probably wouldn't have got this job and might have been doing an awful job I really hated.

    The thing is, I don't know why my employers wanted someone with a degree. Especially when the person they employed (me!) had a degree in such an unrelated subject. I guess they wanted someone who could show determination and dedication and 3 extra years of voluntary education certainly makes it look like you have that.

    I think though, experience is worth sooooo much more than a degree. I think all University courses should have a compulsory placement year. My course allowed me the option of working somewhere for a few months or something (while still attending lectures). I actually optioned for something different which was writing a mini dissertation (not sure why I picked to do that in the end!). But those who did choose this work placement got nothing out of it. It was too short a placement and was pretty pointless.

    I just think if everyone has to work full time for a year it gives them a better idea of what they want to do (or not do) in life, helps their CV and opens doors for them. For instance, my good friend Emma went on a year placement working in Event Management. She loved it so much she quite uni and stayed there. She's now very successful and plans weddings for a living which is pretty much her dream job!

    I don't think Uni really helped me all that much in terms of choosing my career path, I still don't know 100% what I want to do. I think it was luck that I ended up where I am but who knows.

    However, what it did do is give me experience in living away from home. I went to Uni in Brighton, loved the city, and have stayed ever since. I found a love of cooking, how to take pride in where I live and how to budget my money in order to be able to pay my rent & bills. Those skills are so valuable and if I hadn't gone to Uni I think I would still be living with my parents struggling to find a job I liked. So for me, that's how I see Uni!

  5. I agree with you that work placements always seem to be a waste of time.

    I remember the one we had to do in secondary school and I went to work at Music Scene for two weeks.
    The only thing I learnt was how many Maltesers I could fit in my mouth and that people who work retail are insane.

    I went to be a runner at London Studios whilst I was still at 6th Form and BHASVIC threatened to throw me out, but I knew the value of experience so I went regardless, and still got to stay at college.

    I completely agree that further education does not provide enough worthwile work experience scenarios that would be beneficial to all.
    I think if they did, I would have been more inclined to attend University.