When I worked as an admissions tutor for surveying courses at UWE Bristol I hosted open days and was constantly surprised by the apparent immaturity and the lack of understanding of the ways of the world shown by many prospective 18 year-old students.

Many hadn’t done the research and didn’t understand what level of time commitment a university education demanded and that a vocational degree covered quite a narrow area in some depth to prepare students for a given profession.

Of course there were academic expectations such as research skills, report writing and critical analysis embedded in the vocational topics to provide an academic veneer. Despite our best endeavours to weed out the no hopers before they embarked upon the course 10-15 per cent of the first year students failed due to non-attendance and were relocated to start other less demanding courses or withdrew, having spent a small fortune on fees and accommodation for no academic gain.

They probably partied a lot and were sociable types but hadn’t applied themselves to academic life and racked up massive debts. Their parents were particularly unimpressed when they inevitably found out.

We also taught a lot of post graduate conversion students and part time students who were already doing the job and were supported by their employers. The contrast between the two groups was noticeable and we put it down to the fact that being a few years older, these students had more life skills and were better resourced mentally to cope with the demands of academic life.

They knew why they were there, were self-motivated and goal-driven. This led me to conclude that education was indeed wasted on the young and a radical solution would be to restrict university entry to the over 21s! Whilst colleagues agreed with me, this approach might not appeal to university vice chancellors who seem to be trying to get as many bums on seats as possible without undertaking any form of assessment of the suitability of candidates.

So, what to do. Whilst this is likely to be unpopular, I think we need to return to a form of national service that enables young people of 18-30 to serve the institutions of this country in a variety of ways on a living wage or universal basic income in return for being granted full citizenship at 21 and financial support from the government to pay for further or higher education fees at some time in the future when the person is ready and willing to engage.

I am not suggesting people are conscripted into the armed forces, although we could do with more recruits to all our armed services, given the parlous state of our defences and the increased level of threat from bad actors across the world. I am thinking more of support for teachers and NHS workers, farmers, horticulturalists, social care and environmental charities at home or abroad. An opportunity to broaden the mind, develop interpersonal skills and find out more about themselves. Win-Win!