Monday, 19 January 2009

The Fallacy of University

I don’t regret going to university, but I would have done if the only thing I got out of it was of an academic nature. Through the use of my psychic intuition, I get the impression that a lot of people that have been to university probably feel the same way.

The very nature of academia can seem shallow to those not entirely immersed in the student ethos. I got through university and was spat out the other side with a good degree, but during the process, I got by on the bare minimum. I saw people killing themselves with stress, worry and sleep deprivation in order to keep up with the recommended reading and ending up with the same grade as me. However, without that wider reading, the academic experience is undeniably going to be a shallow one and for me, all it became was a series of skin-deep essays and exams. I didn’t do spectacularly well in any of them, but I did well enough to get the same classifications as those of my colleagues who had eaten drank and slept the world of Ancient History for the full three years. The frustrating thing is that I was a bad student in reality but on paper I was one of the best. The call for decrying the numerical grading systems of the academic world is a subject for another day, but how can someone really assess a person’s mastery over the discipline of History or any of the more subjective arts subjects with a score between one and one hundred?

The academic side of things is obviously not the only reason that people go to university, even if it should be the main reason. There are a lot of good things that one can get out of the university experience. It is a time when you are among several like minded individuals who you should get along with, societies could lend weight to an existing interest or allow you to try out new things that could become valuable to you later in life, and the experience of living away from home but still retaining a certain degree of a safety net is invaluable. I owe my independent lifestyle that I have at the moment to being able to face the real world one step at a time through the university experience and then put it all together after graduation.

I find it a real shame that there is such a massive drive to get everyone going to university. This isn’t sour grapes in the sense that I feel the experience should be more exclusive, but I feel that it shouldn’t be mandatory. We all know people that have gone to university that are either not capable of meaningful studying or just wouldn’t get anything out of it and so many people get pushed into it by schools, parents and the government when what they would really benefit from is starting work or learning a different kind of skill. I’m sure a lot of school leavers end up going to university because they feel they have to and that they would be a failure if they didn’t.

I have a friend that joined the police instead of going to university. As it happens, this friend was more than capable of university level of study, but he wouldn’t have gotten as much out of it as he has done with the police force, because he is perfectly suited to the job; He has good presence and charisma, he’s remarkably good with people, he’s strong and confident and he has enough intelligence to understand what’s going on. If we had more police officers like him, the country would be a much safer place. If more people followed paths that they were more suited to, we would have a country that would make a lot more sense.

If you don’t feel you got what you wanted to out of university, it’s not too late to follow your dreams and expectations. It may be time to take up part time studying as I so strongly advocate (see my ramblings on the matter here) but for me, I’m going to be happy with the fact that I did at least get something out of it and wasn’t purely there because I thought I had to be. I know people who want to get into radio and so spent their university life running the studio, gaining a vast amount of knowledge and huge number of contacts, I know people who wanted to get into journalism that spent their time snooping around the university digging up a surprising amount of dirt and I know people that wasted their time and didn’t get anything out of their three years, but it doesn’t matter what you have done, it’s what you do with it that will count.

Any graduate out there may think that they’re at a significant advantage to non-graduates in the job market. In my albeit limited experience, I would argue that the playing field is a lot more level than you may think.

Additional Notes:
Academia should be the driving force behind going to university, but I did meet someone who never intended to study in the first place. He attended the first year of his university six times, using it as some kind of expensive holiday reosrt, before ending up having to work twelve hour shifts without holidays or weekends for the following four years in order to pull himself out of debt. The interesting thing is that he didn’t regret a second of it.

I actually had a radio show at university as well. It was great fun to do but just occasionally you would find yourself suddenly realizing that you were sat in a small dingy basement room, listening to music and talking to yourself.

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