Truth or Justice

by | Oct 18, 2016 | Communication | 4 comments

What is the point of a university education?

Simple question. No longer a simple answer.

When I grew up, university education in the UK was the prize awarded to the few. It was free, in part because so few people went to university – the majority did some form of vocational training, whether engineering, nursing, teaching, accountancy or retail, to cite just a few examples. You could walk out of school at 16 and into a job that, 4 years later, would have you fully qualified with 4 years in-work training under your belt.

Because of that, I’ve never missed the lack of a degree – employers are more than happy to employ somebody who can prove they have the required skills and real-life experience.

Back then, a university education was only a requirement for a small number of careers. The point of a university education was to have one of those careers – very few of us considering that option considered a life in academia.

But society evolves, and with an increase in technological dependence comes a new perspective. Now, the answer to students considering a job in engineering, nursing, teaching or accountancy is – get a degree. So much so that 10% of UK university technical colleges are closing down, despite being an ideal way to provide vocational training for 14-18 year olds.

So there is, quite rightly, an increasing focus by both parents and employers on the way young adults are being taught at university. Since 2015, there has been a dramatic increase in both mainstream and social media reporting around those students and faculty members who feel that university is so dangerous that they need to both ban speakers who might challenge certain viewpoints and insist on trigger warnings, as well as compulsorily educating male students as to their propensity to rape.

Gone are the days when our kids looked forward to university as a place to learn new things, meet new friends and party without the parents being around for the aftermath.

Who’d want to go to a strange place so they could avoid being themselves in case it “triggers” somebody else. And no, I’m not talking about being drunk and obnoxious. One of my sons has certain university friends who expect him to be quiet and apologetic for being the nicest, most polite, working-class guy with a middle-class verbal repetoire you could ever hope to vilify as a cis-gendered heteronormative white-privilege enhanced male. Thank God they’re not all like that.

Who’d want to go through that, come out with £30k of debt and then end up in a retail or distribution job because that’s all you can get? Why not cut out the debt and disdain, go straight into the retail job and take university accreditation online through the growing number of universities that offer distance learning options – assuming you decide you need that degree for a real job?

I wonder if those who are currently clamouring for safe spaces, trigger warnings and the overthrow of the oppressive patriarchy realise how quickly technology is moving our education forward? How long before they’re sidelined completely as employers actively seek out those who can prove they can hold down a job instead?

Because the one thing you learn quickly when working in the real world is how to communicate with others. That, more than anything else, will be the skill that drives us forward through the rest of this century.