What is the point of studying a degree?

Last night, thanks to @Jim_Dickinson and @AaronPorter‘s Mum, I found out that BBC current affairs show, Newsnight, had a feature asking about the point of studying a degree at university.

I feel the Newsnight piece asked the wrong questions. I’ve always argued that the student experience is the whole experience, not just the degree. That’s why the experience of someone who doesn’t go to university can be just as rewarding. It’s what the person, as an individual, makes their experience.

photo by Abulic Monkey

photo by Abulic Monkey

Jeremy Paxman talked to Pam Tatlow, Chief Executive of Million+, and Michelle Dewberry, 2006 winner of The Apprentice.

Dewberry said, “I wanted to earn money”, and she set out to do that without university. Making money, even lots of it, doesn’t require a degree.

This may be a misconception among some people. So just to make it clear, if your main aim is solely to make money, university isn’t the solution. University may or may not help, but it’s not the way forward if all you want to do is roll around in cash. And the sooner someone starts putting their money-making plans into action, the sooner they’ll start to see money coming in. A few years at uni may just hold things up!

Therefore, taking the non-university route is most successfully travelled in one of these two circumstances:

  1. With a clear vocation/career in mind that does not require university. It may require an apprenticeship, no formal education at all, or education ‘on-the-job’ at a later stage;
  2. With a passion and will so great that the individual knows what they want and how they’re going to get it.

Much of the magic of university is that higher learning can help uncover passions, it can bring about opportunity that may not have presented itself outside an academic institution, and it can allow intense focus on learning and teaching that may not be available elsewhere.

Higher Education (HE) has many benefits. That doesn’t mean everyone should go to university, but it does mean everyone should be given the choice.

The other question asked on Newsnight was that of qualification inflation. Why does a job or career now require a degree if it once required only GCSEs or A-Levels? Pam Tatlow hit the nail on the head when she said, “I don’t think that any job just stays still”. She went on to suggest that qualification inflation is created by employers, rather than universities.

I have no argument with Pam Tatlow’s remarks; she held a good argument to the question asked. The question itself, however, is not entirely relevant for students. With 43% of school leavers now going into HE, it’s clear that the situation has indeed changed over time. But regardless of what qualifications are required to get on in life, there is more to uni life than simply studying.

Granted, there are people out there who don’t make much use of their three or four years at uni. Maybe they just don’t care. But most likely, they probably don’t know how to make the most of their experience.  If I could go back, I would do things differently to enhance my experience, yet I’m this passionate about university ANYWAY!  It just goes to show how much is possible.

An important question to ask is, how can students discover new opportunities at university and actively develop opportunities that have already come their way?

Going back to the Newsnight feature, Pam Tatlow made these points:

  • “There’s not one path to success.”
  • “One size does not fit all.”
  • “There is not one route into success.”

You’ll notice these all make the same point. Tatlow was speaking in terms of whether or not you choose to study a degree. She’s absolutely right. And the same can be said for students already studying a degree. The future success of a student is not guaranteed because of the degree, it is because of the path they have taken. And different people walk down different paths.

I’m sorry if that sounds too philosophical, but you can’t compare HE with success. You can use HE to find success and you can use HE along the way to build something successful, but nobody should suggest that all who go into HE will be successful.

Don’t get me wrong, the aim should be to help all who go into HE to find success. So arguing about the point of a degree is pointless in itself. The question is too broad and ends up working off subjective opinions as opposed to proper facts.

The Newsnight piece questioned degrees such as Golf Course Management. But if your passion is to be heavily involved in the golfing business, what is so wrong in following a vocation and using HE to help get you closer to your dream? And what is the harm in a degree that covers professional practice, project management, events experience, finance, coaching, staff management, and so on? Surely these are all transferable skills?

My passion for Higher Education doesn’t come from the degree I studied. But I wouldn’t have found that passion if I’d not studied a degree.

The degree is the start of a journey, not the destination.