University is More Than Career Outcomes

As a particularly education-focused general election nears, it’s time to remind the public that University is about more than career outcomes. Years of conservative talking points, coupled with a rising cost of living have placed huge attention on the value of a university education. In case you’ve been under a rock the last two years, the attention hasn’t been positive. Anti-education sentiments, distilled down to campaign buzzwords like “Mickey Mouse degrees,” have already done irreparable damage to the public’s perception of higher education. It’s a bad rap for a sector that has so much to offer.

Sadly critics of education miss half the story. Time spent at university is about more than just career outcomes. It’s a culmination of experiences that shape a person into their future self. We’re talking about benefits which extend beyond a price tag; skills and experiences which remain with students for their entire lives.

With this in mind, here are additional benefits further education offers to students beyond career outcomes.

Discovering Interests While Gaining Experience

University provides a relatively risk-free environment to explore one’s interests. In other words, a low commitment opportunity to learn about a variety of topics. There’s no other time in our lives that offers the chance to dabble in chosen interests.

Moreover, further education produces well rounded individuals. While students tend to specialise in one given field, nearly all programmes encourage or mandate study in entirely separate disciplines. For example, a student in Mathematics requires credits in the arts or social sciences to complete their degree. This active discovery of interests is ultimately put in place to support a person’s growth, all prior to selecting a career.

Now opponents of education will say the same type of exploration could occur in the workplace, saving huge cost. This argument ignores the obvious barriers of job migration, mainly, how difficult it is to get a job, let alone one in a field you lack experience. Then there’s the high number of employers who mandate university degrees as a pre-requisite for applications, preventing diversified experience. It’s not often that anti-education proponents actively seek retail and fast food employees for their next big office hire.

Then there’s degree apprenticeships, the latest alternative pushed by the Tories. Widely understood as one of the best opportunities to gain real-world experience, these too have their flaws. It takes several weeks just to gain one’s bearings in a new environment, let alone judge an entire field of work. Apprenticeships need to meet a certain length and quality standard to be beneficial in the long run. Applicants also need to have demonstrated some level of interest prior to signing on for an internship. It all ties back to the paradox of requiring experience prior to gaining more; a challenge university degrees help to bypass.

Study at university provides that space and time to test out interests without major repercussion. We should celebrate this exploration, not criticize as we tend to do with job hoppers. Sure, discovering your interests while working your way up is a respectable path, but education provides the same in a more supported and stable manner.

Time to Mature

The most common alternative to further education is a continued presence in the workforce. I say continued, because for many, work starts as early as 13-15 years old. People already have jobs by the time they attend university, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready for a career.

Jobs are different than careers. Jobs are transient, on the clock affairs to make ends meet, while careers are more serious, lifelong defining attributes. The difference is less about the day-to-day tasks themselves, and more about one’s behaviour at work. The change of attitude comes with maturity, something that is rarely acquired other than through time. University study provides that time to develop maturity while studying for an eventual career.

We also need to consider basic life skills. For many students, university is their first time operating without the watchful eye of their parents. Students at university learn to organise their own schedule with responsibilities, balancing coursework, friendships and life maintenance with part time work. University eases people into a dependent life stage without the pressures of also succeeding at work.

Let’s not forget we’re currently experiencing an entire generation of students whose social development was highly impacted by the pandemic. “People skills,” though integral to the workplace are not often taught in them. Time spent interacting with others at university is hugely developmental. Its allows young people to discover how they fit into the world, undefined by a career.

Think Critically

We learn many things on a job; processes, responsibility, efficiency, but rarely do jobs teach us to think critically. I can say with confidence it’s the single biggest return on investment my own degree yielded.

Critical thinking doesn’t go down so well in early careers. Independent thinking rubs against the entire ethos of working as a team and the notion to “do what you’re told.” It isn’t entire someone reaches the higher levels of their career that it becomes paramount. University however is a place this skill is honed.

Without further education, particularly the arts and humanities courses under fire, we will lose a large portion of critical thinkers in the workplace. It’s a detriment that will be felt all industries.

The Desire to Learn

What is the purpose of university anyway? At their core universities are institutions designed to promote lifelong learning. Career outcomes are just an added benefit There’s plenty of examples who study not for an eventual career, but just because they enjoy learning. We have retirees who want to keep active minds, second degree earners who want to upskill, and students of all ages who pursue their passions. Programmes

University is More than Just Career Outcomes

So what does this all boil down to? The career outcomes argument focuses only on a narrow view of what happens during study and what it’s for. Higher education has plenty to offer it’s students – people who look to get different things out of the experience, all by their own choice. Who are we to tell them they are making the wrong one?