Should I go to university?

by Annelise Mitchell January 20, 2016

Should I go to university?

Short answer: Yes, you definitely should.

I’m biased, for sure, but for very good reason.

What follows is some of the most popular reasons of why you should not go. In every account, I will show why these arguments are not only wrong, but how they illustrate that you should.

  1. A university degree is too difficult and only “smart” people should go
  2. A university degree does not always “guarantee” a paid job
  3. I am “too old” (or “young”) to go to university

Let’s go…

  • A university degree is too difficult and only “smart” people should go

This is the worst lie every told. Not only because the idea of intelligence is a judgement made by human beings, but because of the suffering it has caused so many people.

I know this from personal experience. When I was growing up, I would hear that only “smart” people go to uni, and that because no one in my family had completed university, that meant (clearly!) that we were definitely not in the smart camp.

It was not until I entered my early twenties, and completed a Diploma as a Veterinary Assistant (thinking that I loved working with animals and that my intelligence was sufficient to at least complete a diploma) that I found that I really enjoyed learning.

A friend of mine would see me creating learning materials for my two son’s (who were very little at the time), and remarked that I should study to become a teacher. The idea seemed so far reaching (and frightening), and it was not until I decided to return to high school, and receive guidance from some amazing teachers (who I attribute to where I am today), that I decided to go to university.

If I had chosen to believe that I was not intelligent enough (and I have met or known many people who still believe this), I would not have had the courage to pursue further learning. My experience of going to university taught me how challenging what we believe is one of the most important reasons to become educated. (More on this in future posts)

In my experience as a teacher, any student has the capability of learning, they just have to want to. If their interest lays elsewhere, they are going to find the learning difficult, and this is only natural. But this goes for any endeavour in life, if we don’t like what we are doing, we are going to struggle, or at least, not enjoy the process.

After gaining skills, however, the process of writing essays and research becomes easier, for everyone. It is like learning any skill, it takes time and practice, but with a genuine will to improve ourselves, we will get better.

  • A university degree does not “guarantee” a paid job

In most cases it does lead to a paid job, and in fact, according to Graduate Careers Australia, in December 2015, only 11.3 per cent of 2015 graduates were not working, or still seeking full-time employment. This means that 88.7% of individuals who graduated at the beginning of 2015 were employed in full-time positions by the end of the year.

For the remaining 11.3 per cent, they were either still looking for full-time work (meaning they are in some form of employment), or unemployed. I will discuss below what these “unemployed” can do in a rapidly changing employment landscape.

Where does the belief that university graduates cannot get a job come from?

Just a quick scan through the Internet reveals a multitude of websites that claim that 30% of graduates will be unemployed in the first four months of graduation, with some even claiming that a whopping two-thirds will “fail” to find a full-time job within four months of completing their course.

Clearly, these claims are unfounded, as a quick research into ABS annual reports on university graduates and Graduate Careers Australia found otherwise.

Why are these claims made?

These claims are mostly a result of the increase of students attending universities in Australia – rising nine times since 1971, with 1.3 million students graduating in 2015. The ABS found that over one quarter of Australians have a bachelor degree or higher, resulting in a higher than ever volume of university educated job seekers.

These fears also have something to do with the declining job rate in Australia. Although relatively similar to 2003, the projected 5.9% unemployment rate in 2016 is predicted to increase in the coming years, as opposed to its projected decrease in 2003. This type of fearful talk is normal, and as is usually the case, finger pointing leads to things like education system being demonised for what is a result of inevitable changes in the global economy.

Another issue that is not addressed in many of these articles is that many of these “unemployed” students are looking for work in traditional fields that are changing rapidly. As Australia moves into the “collaborative economy,” where increased use of smart phones and digital devices is leading to many new jobs and new industries, students can no longer only seek employment in the industries of the twentieth century, such as accounting and industrial-type jobs that are becoming automated.

There is also a lot of evidence that because Australia’s resources sector is decreasing in demand (think decline of the “mining boom”), there will be a greater need for “knowledge workers,” people with skills in Information and Communication Technologies (IT), and “creative and social intelligence.”

There is also a shift with people starting their own businesses, where many of these individuals have university degrees that have enabled them to have skills that are marketable, or the discipline and creative thinking ability that is nurtured in Australia’s universities. That is why there is now a focus (and push) on creating students that think creatively, leading to their ability to make innovations within the “knowledge economy.”

Indeed, the Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank, Philip Lowe has outlined that if Australia is to remain competitive with growing economies that are investing billions of dollars into higher education (think China!), it will need people who are able to “solve complex problems, develop and use technology, deliver premium quality goods and services; and respond quickly to an ever-changing world.” A university education provides these skills, as all research is targeted towards creating graduates that will be highly skilled and adaptable.

In fact, a university degree can lead to you one day operating your own business, or trying out different roles or fields based on your many marketable skills. I am increasingly seeing this. A graduate student of law is running her own law advisory that caters towards the “average person” who wants legal services to be affordable, a business graduate is running his own organic café, and a high school teacher has created her own mentoring business, employing other teachers in the process.

The question of whether you should go to university is not only about whether you should get a degree so that you will get a job. It is also about gaining life-long skills that can help you create your own job, perhaps living the life that you have always dreamt about.

  • I am “too old” (or “young”) to go to university

We are never too old to learn. As a teacher, some of my students were approaching sixty and were entering the teaching profession. I also knew of older students in other fields, taking on education because they realised that they always wanted to learn but lacked the confidence or were too busy from the demands of life. This trend is increasing, and for good reason, we will all be working beyond the 65 years, and will need to increase our skills, no matter what our age.

I truly believe, and many academics have written about this, is that students who have experienced life before going to university have a better experience. They not only have greater appreciation for what they are learning, but they are often more disciplined and have life experience to reflect on throughout their studies.

Even in my early twenties, I had experienced quite a few jobs, had children, that once I began studying, I was very interested in what I was learning. I found that students who left high school and went straight to university were often (not always) a little bored because they had been learning for 12 years. Even if they had a one-year gap, the gap was often just enough to reinvigorate their desire to learn.

This is often not illustrated by universities, particularly on their websites. The University of Adelaide, in answering the question, “Why go to University? does not outline the life-long benefits of a university education, only the monetary benefits, reflecting a 10-year trend where universities are viewed as vocational preparation rather than a holistic education for everyone.

Does this mean that “everyone” should go to university?

No, not everyone, just like not everyone is suited to become a gardener, a doctor or an actor. Everyone has different needs and values, and it is up to each person to find what he or she needs and values. For me it was higher education, and will always be because education is what I need and value. For others, it may be building magnificent houses, being a chef who creates culinary works of art, or a swimming coach who nurtures future swimming greats, or anything else that they feel is rewarding, both financially and emotionally.

Indeed, I have found that many students can feel pressured to go to university, when they will be much happier getting a job, or going into an apprenticeship, or even travelling the world and working along the way. For some of these students, they may go to university later on life, and they may not. That is okay too.

Hopefully, I have shown you how a university degree is much more than a job; it is an experience that some of us need, and could not live without. It will lead us to meaningful employment (if we want it), a more enriching life (for those of us who need it).

Annelise Mitchell
Annelise Mitchell


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