Do our kids really need university?
I was a lousy student. At the beginning of 1992 I enrolled at a technical college to study chemistry. After two years I changed my mind and I started studying business at university.
I’m not sure why I studied either of these subjects. Most likely, just like my friends, I went to university for a ‘bit of a laugh’ and to have a good time. Also, in my hometown, it was expected that you went to university. If you didn’t, well, you had failed.
In the early mid-nineties attending university was inexpensive. We lived in dingy flats and went out drinking two or three nights a week. Undergraduates studied a range of diverse subjects and new ideas were discussed over lunch or while playing $5 rounds of golf. It was a magical time.
I have visited universities in recent years and perhaps it’s just me getting old, but I don’t see that same magic on the campuses of 2021. Is attending university really worth all the time and the money? I doubt it.
When I graduated at the end of 1996 I was twenty-three years old. I didn’t know what I wanted to do and had no work experience at all. I owed $20,000 and had spent five years gathering qualifications. As I was about to discover the qualifications I had acquired were of limited use. There were also a large number of other graduates who were in exactly the same situation.
With my B.Com (Training / Marketing) double major completed I assumed that my future employment would involve certain things. A nice car, going out for long lunches and making lots of money. Well, that wasn’t quite how it worked out. I discovered that my degree qualified me to work as a salesman. I visited customers, with my red vinyl clipboard ‘at the ready’. Reaching my weekly sales target was a truly hellish experience. My old boss Bill exemplified this with a motivational line he dispensed liberally “If you can’t reach your sales target don’t bother coming back.”
Like a lot of young people at that time, when the post-university dream failed to materialize, I went off and see the world.
In summary, since graduating in 1996, I had worked in sales in Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand — it had been stressful and far from glamorous. From 1999 until 2001, I worked in retail in Perth, Australia — it was tedious and the pay was only really enough to survive. In late 2001, I flew out to the United Kingdom on a two-year working holiday visa. Surely, I thought, there will be work for me here? Well, yes and no. Yes, there was work but it was so menial and the conditions were so lousy, that the local people were unwilling to do it. I spent two years shambling around the UK doing a range of temporary jobs whilst teetering on the brink of poverty.
By 2004 I was 30 years old and washing dishes in a cafe in Brisbane, Australia. Under the counter job, great people and even a few free beers after work but I wondered…….What am I going to do?
Fortunately my luck changed. I came to Japan, there have been some challenges but it’s worked out well. I have a wonderful wife and two kids Luca aged nine years old and Juno aged six years old. We call them Loo and Joo — they are bright, bubbly, ferocious, and everything that kids their age should be.
So, when Loo and Joo reach university age (a decade from now) what advice will I offer to them? Let’s imagine for a moment that eighteen-year-old Loo (or Joo) is crazy about Egyptian history. Do I suggest that he/she invests four years studying for a degree in Egyptian history? You must be joking? If you factor in the loss of potential earnings the cost of that degree will balloon to over $100,000.
Alternatively, do I tell Loo (or Joo) to continue cultivating their interest in Egypt? Perhaps, find a related job, accumulate a little money and take a trip to Egypt each year?
For most people, the second option is best. The idea of students spending years broadening their horizons and learning how to think is garbage. It’s a dreamy view of what people like to think constitutes an education. It’s not a true reflection of what a university delivers to its customers in 2021.