#LoveHE: A priceless opportunity

Mathematician and TV presenter Rachel Riley on the many ways higher education can spur self-improvement

June 24, 2010

Pursuing higher education was the obvious choice for me: I knew I wanted to improve my job prospects at the end of the day. My dad went to university but my mum didn't, and I think a small part of her has always regretted it. I didn't want to miss out on the experience, so it was always clear that I would be going to university.

I studied at Oriel College, Oxford, where I completed a four-year degree in mathematics. There were a lot of topics that I had never come across before, and although it was initially very difficult for me to adapt to the style of learning at university, I did grow to love it. The longer I stayed there, the more interesting it became.

Going to university shows that you have an ability to learn independently. At Oxford you have regular tutorials and this forces you to improve your presentation techniques and puts you on the spot to make you present yourself well. Working to constant deadlines gives you a solid grounding and it is a good stepping stone into the world of work.

The good thing about most degree courses is that you get such a broad overview of the subject. You may be studying things you don't particularly enjoy but it teaches you to persist, and that is a good skill to have. Your eyes are opened to a whole new world of things that you wouldn't have known existed unless you went to university.

No matter what subject you study, you are never going to regret doing a degree. It provides you with the confidence and gives you the lifelong skills that you are going to need throughout your life. It shows employers you can learn, work hard and persist with any given task.

Not only does it provide you with the opportunity to be around academics who know their subject inside out, it gives you the perfect chance to pursue extracurricular activities. During my time at Oxford, I was involved in setting up a rounders club. I also played football and netball, and one year even canoe water polo. If you're not good enough to make the university team, you can simply occupy yourself with college sport, which is what I did.

I was really disappointed when the issue of top-up fees came to the fore when I was at university. Fees were capped at about £1,100 when I was there, and this is where I feel they should have remained. It should be the most able people who go to university; the cost of the degree should not be an issue. I wouldn't want to discourage someone who wants to be a doctor from studying to do so because of the cost.

I know that many institutions are losing their best staff to overseas institutions because of the lure of a better salary; however, we need to work on a way of creating a system that encourages those who are able enough to further their education, with the best academics on hand to provide the necessary help and guidance.

It would have made me think twice about furthering my education if the fees had been higher than they were when I was at university. The way things are going, fees really are going to put people off.

If I wasn't co-presenting Countdown right now then who knows - I may well have gone down the route of further research if it were financially viable for me.

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