The Narrative Around University Education

University Education

We live in a world of cut throat competition and job scarcity. While members of the middle income class are constantly fed ideas about making it big in the world and becoming rich and famous, the upper class comprises of people who are born in the lap of luxury- for many in the lower sections of the income ladder, a monthly 5 digit salary remains a distant dream. While there are a great many things, both materialistic and purely notional which separate these people, the one hope common to every young adult is the belief in University education.

In developing and less developed countries, the more pressing concern for the large majority of the indigenous population is that of acquiring basic primary education– a “class 12 pass” (as one who has completed secondary schooling is commonly referred to in India) would be eligible for certain jobs which would at least fetch a minimum level of sustenance for his/her family. For those sections of the society who have the financial where with all to invest in a college degree (and possibly even post graduate education), there is a powerful belief that university education is the primary path to success– a narrative that is not entirely desirable.

Apropos to the dominant narrative, there is, of course, nothing wrong with a university education. One could argue that it helps shape one’s personality and also exposes one to situations which simulate the real world – but within the confines of a classroom, and in a slightly less protective environment than that of a school. People often pick up valuable social skills at college too, and learn the meaning of hard work, success, and most important of all, failure.

On the other hand, there is also the jarring realization that at the tender age of 18, colleges make one choose the field they wish to specialize in for the rest of their life. This is a choice that most make with almost no idea of what the world is like, and what their chosen profession will actually be like. Moreover, the choice of a particular subject is also often accompanied by other subjects for which a person may not have an aptitude or even a liking, but is forced to study anyway if they truly wish to pursue their dream career in their track.

The major problem that arises concerns the belief that a university education is the primary path to success in life — a narrative which has become so overwhelmingly strong over the course of the last century, that it is today believed that a university education is the ONLY thing that qualifies one for a job, much to the exclusion of all other forms of qualification like practical experience from the school of hard knocks: life. Initially, employers and interviewers used college grades and degrees as a standard format to assess which people were more qualified for jobs and should definitely be hired.

In olden days, most people were merely school graduates who also had real experience and practical knowledge, but these skills were difficult to assess in interviews. As a result, those with certificates were easily identified and immediately given jobs. With almost every teenager in developed countries going to college nowadays, it has become a standard procedure to make a university degree an essential prerequisite to landing an interview in the first place, thus making it extremely difficult for home-schooled or experienced applicants to even get a foot in the door.

The shiny piece of paper called a degree has become invaluable in today’s society, and yet it does not in fact certify anything except the fact that one is good at taking examinations, and that one is also financially well-off enough and can afford the costs associated with a formal education. Moreover, most employers today provide complete on-job training to new employees, which often have nothing to do with their field of study in college. With more people seeking fewer jobs in the 21st century, employers have started placing an overwhelming amount of focus on degrees and marks to filter out a select few whom it would be practically feasible to actually interview.

This has pushed universities to place a great deal of focus on marks, which then makes University examinations the sole purpose behind students enrolling in colleges. This does not necessarily imply that those who receive university education are guaranteed to succeed in life, but the amount of importance attached to a formal education has made it a necessary precursor. There are obvious exceptions to this rule, like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, but such people are far from the norm– They are pioneers who managed to succeed despite the obstacle of having dropped out of college, and while their tales might give hope to many, it is still (to a large extent) a false hope.

There are many of us who do not fare well in exams. Those of us cannot be confined to the four walls of a classroom, and need to learn at our own pace rather than that which is demanded by the system. For the late bloomers and the misfits, the underachievers and the so called ‘failures’, the narrative around university education is one that definitely works to their disadvantage.

-Contributed by Prithviraj

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