University degrees have changed. This is the first year that fees have been increased to a staggering £9,000 a year and the old argument is university is worth it. I put in my two cents to the debate a while ago (it’s here in case you’re interested) but I’ve been thinking about university in general lately. Partly because the boy is still at university so it’s not quite out of my life yet.
Looking back on my overall university experience, I would definitely recommend university as a thing to do if you’re passionate and enjoy a particular subject.
My degree, because that is what university is about – though it may be lost in translation for some, was enjoyable, challenging and interesting. It was hard work but fulfilling and I did enjoy my time studying English Language and Literature. It wasn’t what I expected however.
Before I went to university I had a certain expectation of what it would be like. I imagined brilliant debates ignited by the lecturer or a particular passage in the novel that would challenge and stimulate the students. I envisioned students being forced to consistently question their ideas and be made to think about things different, study things in great depth during independent study all to come up with a different point of view, a new angle, an altered insight.
I guess I expected the universities depicted in great stories or films where smart people are forced to not only look at the superficial and just under it but actually get their hands dirty learning, adapting, evolving.
It wasn’t like this.
Without including the dissertation and big projects, university was a lot like school and college. You are expected to answer exam questions in a particular way so that an examiner can tick off certain boxes on a marking sheet. You need to regurgitate information in a particular way to be able to get the marks that allow you to get the degree. It isn’t as much about original thought as learning what other have done. There’s no development after that.
Obviously it is important to know the background and the ‘pillars’ of the subject. Having a foundation to then form something new and to be able to make you an individual academic that contributes to the subject rather than just learning about it. Becoming an active student rather than a passive one.
However, that isn’t fully encouraged until it’s time for your dissertation or project in your final years. There isn’t discussion though or bouncing off each other, at least in individual projects. You miss that and although the final year project/dissertations are fun in a strange way and hard work; they are closer to my imaginings of university.
It is still an individual thing however. Long, long before I was born, university was more about the learning of the foundations (like we do now) and then discussing, debating and trying to form new ideas. This is what makes innovators.
People weren’t afraid to question things, challenge them and actually attempt to do something better. This is what creates great people. The ability to challenge, argue and learn from others to do something yourself – not regurgitating information like a helpless baby bird.
University has become too caught up in league tables and getting as many students as possible through the door to up potential grants given to them. Universities were forced to adhere to guidelines that higher education can’t really match if it is to be fulfilling and rewarding enough to create brilliant thinkers and do-ers, people that could make ripples, or waves, in the world.
I understand that this type of learning would not suit everyone. That many would be put off by the amount of independent learning, lack of spoon feeding and necessary opinions based on research and background knowledge.
But I don’t think this would be a bad thing.
It would mean that people would be going to university not based on their household income (although this isn’t as big of an issue in the UK) but for those that wanted to do something brilliant through, or with, their degree. It would mean that open-mindedness would be a necessity, rather than something you’d hopefully learn (you’d be surprised at the ignorance people still leave university with).
University should be a place to grow, be challenged and be happy for it and the learning it gives you. It should not be a memory test, or the ability to write a certain answer in a certain way to please a certain teacher.