I have a love/ hate relationship with the university system in the UK. On the one hand, UK institutions are a great environment for meeting like minded individuals and developing broader opinions. On the other, higher education has been commercialised and commoditised. It’s now a commodity peddled with such fervour that there is somehow an expectation that university should naturally follow high school. My experiences have taught me that this expectation is damaging to young adults and wrong. University is not the only way to pursue higher education.
The focus on university attendance was highlighted in 1999, at least in the UK, by Tony Blair (former British prime minister) when he stated that his goal was for 50% of the British public under 30 to have attended university by 2010. However, the impact of promoting university without promoting industry is that as of last year; 58% of university graduates are employed in non-graduate jobs. This policy by no means is unique to the UK, most governments around the world have pursued methods by which to increase the number of their workforce with university degrees. So keep in mind, the number of graduates increase while the job market is not always ready to accept all of them.
During my time at university, I had the opportunity to sit on the University of Dundee’s governing body. For many reasons, this was an eye opening experience. While I was part of the governing body, the UK government introduced higher university fees, raising the fees for attending university in the UK to £9250 a year which naturally had a negative impact on university applications. However, as of last year, university applications are back up to their previously highest levels.
The governing body was less concerned with the impact of the increased fees on the students and more concerned with how to market the university to the public. It was interesting to see the university selectively use statistics to skirt around the major employability issues discussed above. For instance, universities like to tout that their degrees have high employability numbers. However, they often leave out the fact that these numbers also include students that do postgraduate degrees. More often than not, the students that undertake postgraduate degrees do so because they are unable to secure jobs with their undergraduate degree.
It should be clear from the above that university is not the land of milk and honey that some people tout it to be. University is the right place for a number of people who want to enter specific professions where a higher education degree in the subject is required but it is clearly not a one size fits all system. It is alright to change degrees, it is alright to fail, what is more important is to pursue your own personal fulfilment, always learn and continuously improve yourself.
This is particularly true due to the adoption of the internet over the last 20 years. It used to be that universities were a hub of information and knowledge that was difficult if not impossible to access anywhere else.
However, the internet changed this fact. We are now able to find out almost anything you want to from the internet. This naturally raises questions about the relevance of universities in the modern day. You might say that having access to information is very different from being taught something like at a university. However, the reality is that in universities like the University of Cambridge and SOAS (University of London), only 3 percent of academic faculty members are known to be qualified teachers.
Universities expect students to be self-learners rather than require teaching.
With the above backdrop in mind, I think it’s relevant to look at my friends as a case study. Some of whom chose not to attend university or who withdrew from their studies part way through university. Some friends joined the army, others went straight into work, and others travelled before working or studying.
As we have all started reaching our 30’s, the differences between myself and my friends who went to university and those that chose not too are almost indistinguishable. We are all on different career paths and seeking fulfilment in what we do.
The worry that we all had in coming out of high school about failing seems irrelevant now. There is no one defined method to fulfilment or success.
At AISB, through the PYP, MYP, and IB, we are taught to be knowledge seekers. This is an intangibly precious skill. It allows us to pursue our own paths of learning and development that may not fit in with mainstream expectation. When you are at school, it is difficult to know what path to take forward. However, you should feel comforted by the fact that you are being taught the skills needed to make these decisions and that in the end it will be your decision and no one else’s. I am not for a minute suggesting that whatever choice you make will be the right one. You will make mistakes but in the end those mistakes will form part of your experience.
University is not for everyone but if you stay true to the ideals of a global citizen who is always on a path of being a life learner, university can become a place where you grow faster and stronger. It is not sufficient to just get a degree, millions on the planet do that at the same time.
What this globalized world will always need is high quality people, who are ready to adapt quickly and are not afraid of the international dimension and the competition it brings.
My advice is simple, if you choose to go to university, do not do the bare minimum, explore as many fields as you can that have relevance with your main field of study, accumulate and be creative, challenge your professors and try to get as much out of that relationship as possible. Never stop learning. That is how you make a university degree worth it, that is how you will become a strong candidate for any position and that in turn will lead you to fulfilment.