Most people associate university with bettering their career prospects but as former university inspector and expert anthropologist Dr F M Bhutti states, a job is merely a by-product of a university education.
University in its simplest form is a structure designed to expand current knowledge and purify existing knowledge.
However over time the structure has been twisted, changing a once respected institution into little more than a glorified Butlins experience. Universities’ advertising campaigns are increasingly targeting social activities, comparison league tables are now including irrelevant criterion such as ‘student satisfaction’, which is merely a code phrase, its true meaning being a measurement for how a large range of cheap alcohol the university’s student union has to offer.
Of course there are those who say that university is a life experience, but is learning how to down shots and make beans on toast a life experience you should be forking out thousands of pounds for? Furthermore why do universities feel the need to cater for people who place fulfilment of other life domains over the main objective of attending university in the first place?
It seems people who learn for learning’s sake are a dying breed, with the majority of students entering higher education under the illusion that a degree catapults them into a career, an ideology drummed into their minds by listening to years of careers advice from schoolteachers. Admittedly having a degree does vastly increase your chance of getting a job but young people do not question and therefore do not understand the mechanics of why this is.
Obtaining a degree shows the capacity to learn. For many fields most of the content learned will never be used after completion, unless further study is pursued, but the mindset developed whilst learning the course is what employers are interested in. This is why traditionally rigorous subjects such as the sciences, maths, economics, are valued more highly than the arts in the job market in the long-run. The transferable skills obtained varies greatly between disciplines and is a major factor in determining the types of jobs and salary bracket graduates start off in. For example a graduate actuary’s starting salary is £40000, whereas graduates of the arts are among the lowest paid, earning on average just £12 per hour.
But this is just half of the process. Being equipped with a good degree doesn’t mean anything if you are not able to apply the skills learned in the real world. This is a fundamental flaw with current university courses; they teach students to memorize theories rather than how to apply them to everyday scenarios.
The problem stems from attempting to satisfy the conflicting expectations of the general public and academic leaders. It is essentially trying to spoon feed students with skills and knowledge valued in the job market whilst also trying to develop critical thinking, the end result being the ability to regurgitate theories in the exam room and little else. Using my own course, economics, as an example, many students are able to write out the theory behind very complex statistical techniques but give them a graph of simple data for a small business and they wouldn’t be able to carry out even the most basic forms of analysis.
Perhaps this approach is too one dimensional, after all there are different types of knowledge, academic knowledge just being one strand. Maybe university teaches students social knowledge, modelling them into responsible citizens who respect people around them and understand the importance of harmony in the community?
The fact that the MIT, one of the best universities in the world, is resorting to using a ‘charm school’ to teach it’s students basic etiquette such punctuality, appropriate dress and how to communicate with colleagues shows just how successful university has been in socially educating students. “Students don’t really know what’s meant by professional dress, whether it’s a young lady wearing a skirt that’s way too short or a young man whose pants aren’t really tailored,” says Alana Hamlett co-director of MIT’s charm school. “Most students just roll out of bed in whatever it is they want to wear. There’s this ‘come as you are’ about being a college student.”
Having failed to fulfil its original purpose it seems that the benefits of university are no longer worth the expense paid. Is it cynical to say that university’s true purpose is to benefit itself? With the introduction of the U.K’s first official profit-making university, The University of Law, in 2012 perhaps not.
Written with thanks to my grandfather, Dr F M Bhutti, my inspiration for this article