A while ago, a couple of bloggers posted about how they elected not to go to university/college – I think the context must have been one of these “knowledge versus wisdom” prompts. I picked up a perception of students locked away in their classes, accumulating all this hypothetical, text-book knowledge, while the bloggers instead gained their (useful, practical) knowledge out in the “real world”.
That wasn’t consistent with my experience, and I wrote my thoughts down, but for some reason it stayed in my Drafs folder. I came across it the other day, spruced it up, and figured that it was good enough to publish. So, here goes.
For me, university had two aspects, academic and pastoral.
My university course was three years duration. We had exams at the end of the first year. These were very much make or break exams – if you failed them, you were kicked out. People did fail them.
From that point onwards, provided you completed the course, you had your degree in your pocket. So, those first-year exams really were crucial. What was up for grabs was the grade of degree you obtained. Grades went from “pass” to “first-class honours”. I guess there must have been a “fail”, but nobody ever failed. As long as you stayed the course.
I think what you get from a university degree is a piece of paper which says, not that you know all this stuff, but that you have the capacity to absorb information at a certain level of complexity. That’s not to say the complexity is beyond anybody else – but the graduate has a piece of paper to prove it.
When I left university, I was far from knowing everything about everything. My first employer recognised not that I could come in and do their job, but that I could come in and learn their job. I think that’s true in general – students are not bestowed with skills which are directly transferrable to the real world – a degree is an indication of capacity. It’s not knowledge (or lack of).
Similarly, I wouldn’t expect somebody to retain that knowledge. It’s very much like an athlete in training – people time things such that they peak in time for the race, or their exams. I can remember very little of what I learned at university, but it’s been replaced with other things instead. It doesn’t mean I got dumber.
My three years was at a non-campus university, in a large city. It was my first taste of living independently.
For starters, I learned to live on a budget – around £20/week (that’s about £40 today, not massively different in $ or €). Take out accommodation, and that’s what I had. Heat, light, food, everything else. At the same time, there were presumably safety nets to prevent me from falling flat on my face, so it was not totally independent.
Then, when I think of the “life” aspects, general interactions with people, going out, forming friendships and relationships… all of that happened afterwards, but a lot more slowly. At university, it was concentrated down into three years.
In those three years, I would estimate that I probably lived ten, and I can only conclude that everything would have been even more concentrated, had I lived on a campus.
The other day, a word prompt word was intangible, and I certainly think that the word comes into play here. Away from home at such a young age, that concentration of valuable life experiences, compressed into this small timeframe. Well, that’s the dictionary definition, isn’t it? I mean, from that point on, you can process all that experience into wisdom, or not. It’s down to the person, just like in the case of a non-graduate.
It is a bit more difficult now – you have to take a punt on whether your job will be good enough to pay off the fees and living expenses. In my time, the fees were automatically paid by the state and we got a grant to cover our living expenses. The flip-side was that you got a better job as a result of university, and would pay more taxes as a result. It’s a six and two threes, but my way made money less of a barrier to embarking on a course.
Certainly in my day, I would have recommended the experience to everybody who had the opportunity to do so. Furthermore, I would urge students to go someplace different to their hometown, just for that semi-independent experience.
I have to say that even though I got a good degree in the end, my biggest regret is not going as far as I possibly could with education. Those letters behind (in front of) your name, once you have earned them, whatever then happens, nobody can take them away.