There's a certain brand of cynicism regarding students that you hear from time to time, with even the employment minister Esther McVey recently branding students as 'snobs' who should work for Costa, but there's a very valid case for the worth of students to society.
University is a chance to exist within a bubble, a safe-haven where although you're likely skint, you're skint in the 'beans on toast' sense, rather than the anxious, over-bearing dread that comes part & parcel of being 'real world poor'. It's a bubble where for three + years you have few commitments besides your course of study, and are free to focus on your work, and your own chosen path within that framework.
One of my favorite things about returning to Falmouth University recently was to see all these young people walking about, each with a young-scrunched up face, lost in the thought of their own creation; perhaps trying to figure out some new thing or tie loose ends of there own desires. Each with their feet on the ground and their heads in the clouds.
Uni is a bubble where the freshness of youth can transpire to great things. We see this most voicefully in the sciences, where new ways of doing things, new potions and tonics for societies ills are remedied. Its my belief that cancer won't be cured by some government think tank or multi-million pound contract, but someday - perhaps on the offchance - in some university laboratory.
We see it too in my field, the arts. Art in the 'real world' has a habit of being a grand echo chamber, with icons of the past (1) repeated with tired acclaim (2). Unfortunately the acclaim most modern art receives tends to be thanks to its value in auction houses & ticket prices rather than its true worth to us.
Good universities are what Socrates would refer to as midwives: breeding grounds for newness. In the real world, under the shade of capitalism, great artistic ventures can be cast aside as phantom-plans, when really it is only the smell of money they do not engineer. At uni you have none of those obligations (the need to make work that is financially viable) and so you set off on your ways for other, more sentimental means.
Its the job of all students to take their three years and grasp them with both hands. It is a time of limitless prosperity for themselves as a person, and themselves as an artist, thinker, scientist, whatever. To be in that bubble, surrounded by like-minded folk, all pointed - with fresh insightful vigour - to the future, is a real opportunity for growth. With the right attitude, students bloom not only with their subject, but as people, growing rounded & worldy in lecture halls & libraries, in conversation & relations.
People often chastise the outlook of students as dreamers and idealists, and yes often this is fair criticism. However it is in this naive, playful wonderings that we find the most concentrated effort of new thought. Naive stabs in the dark, yes, fair; but one of them will hit the mark.
I'm a big believer in youth, I think your early 20's is the perfect time for newness. Much like footballers, you have the risk-taking naivety of youth that implores you to try new things, the (virtuous) confidence/arrogance to dignify your vision with great integrity, and are physically & mentally at your peak. You've also not been trodden with the ways of the real world enough to lose any of this. It's a time when the 'folly of enthusiasm' is all around, and the indifference of wisdom' is distant & unheard.
That's about all. A pat on the back to students everywhere.