Saturday, 19 September 2015

Pros & Cons #3: Going To University

As thousands of teens throughout the UK and the world over begin to prepare their applications for university, today we take a look at whether a university education is worth the often hefty outlay. 

PRO - Academic Stimulation

The primary reason for (most) people to go to university is, of course, to learn. Universities create a structured, systematic environment for students to learn in. 

Universities provide key academic tools to students, tools ranging from buildings and advanced learning facilities, to access to tuition from academic experts in any field, to things that often overlooked, such as a syllabus, a structure to a student's learning experience. 

These are the results of years of planning and a large amount of investment, that anyone who goes to university can take advantage of.

CON - Information is Everywhere

The ever-widening access to information that we are all receiving (primarily via the internet), however, could be argued to be reducing the academic importance of traditional universities.

Yes, going to a university gives you access to tuition from academics who have a great deal of knowledge in their field, but, today, so can Just search 'lecture' on here and you can find thousands of videos of esteemed academics teaching pretty much any topic you want to know about. 

What's more is that the breadth of content on YouTube (and other video streaming sites) means you can find talks from not just experts in a particular field, but experts who are world-renowned, from some of the best academic institutions in the world. MIT, for example, have over 3,000 lecture videos on their YouTube channel- for most people, giving higher quality content than they would receive at their own university.

PRO - Job Prospects

But, even if you listened to all 3,426 MIT Lectures on YouTube, it's pretty difficult to convey that on the key to a good job that is your CV. 

Of course, there are a number of prominent specialised jobs that are inaccessible without a university degree; you can't be a doctor, or for example, without having studied medicine at university.

But as the jobs market is becoming ever more competitive, it appears the demand for a university degree is growing. In 2013, the number of jobs in the UK requiring a degree overtook the number of jobs requiring no qualifications at all.

Virgin founder Richard Branson is often cited as an
example of why university is not important.
Some people cite success stories such as those of Richard Branson or Alan Sugar in opposition to the notion that a university degree is a requirement for a successful career- and indeed that is sometimes the case. 

However, we must not fool ourselves into thinking the likes of Branson and Sugar are not the exceptions, but the rule. The large majority of us won't see their success, and in that case a university degree is a pretty good thing to have to fall back on.

In his paper The Effects of Education as an Institution (1977), Stanford University Sociologist John W. Meyer affirms that our society's values put a graduate in a special position: "The education he receives has a very special status and authority: its levels and content categories have the power to redefine him legitimately in the eyes of everyone around him and thus take on overwhelming ceremonial significance".

CON - Cost

Were we having this debate pre-2000, this wouldn't be such an issue, as university tuition in the UK was free. But now, with universities charging as much as £9,000 a year in tuition fees, many students are having to weigh up whether university is worth the outlay of £27,000 for a regular 3-year course- plus, of course, the costs of living (accommodation, food, etc.).

Again, the condition of Britain's jobs market means graduates are not guaranteed to be better off in terms of jobs, either. As more and more people attend university, being a graduate alone is now not enough to succeed in attaining many jobs. 

The apprenticeship is becoming a popular alternative
to university among many young people.
Plus, the growing number of apprenticeships, school leaver programmes being offered by some top companies means there is an alternative route to a high paid job- one that not only means you avoid tuition fees, but actually pays a decent salary.

CON - No Guarantees

It is a myth that going to university for however many years automatically turns a student into an academic. The University is a facilitator for learning- it allows students to learn if they make the effort to do so. 

It's not just a question of effort, however. University is not a one-size fits all process- some people thrive, and others don't. Whether you thrive or not is not a problem- it's just making the right decision with regards to allocating your talents. Because performing under-par in university can make things tough.

Earning anything less than 2.1 in University can put graduates in a difficult position these days, especially considering it's the minimum requirement for over 75% of graduate employers. Of course, it is not impossible to get a job with a 2.2- it's just a lot harder. 

University is an investment, remember- it is not guaranteed to pay you back in returns.

PRO - Social Experience

A major appeal of university is the social aspect. 

Most people go to school in their hometown, but university often means a move to some place relatively far away. This makes universities melting pots of students from all over the world, enabling cultural exchanges that can have very positive effects on an individual's personal development.

University also provides one of the biggest networking opportunities for most students- because despite whatever cultural differences there may be, everyone attends in pursuit of academic interests. You can meet many more people who are interested in similar things to you, which not only helps you to thrive academically but also helps you to become part of a new, wider community. 

The community aspect of university education, whether it's joining societies, doing sports or just living with other people, is a very valuable thing. For most people, it can create friends- or even spouses- for life.
Lone Editor

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