Photo: Jean-Luc Ducamp.
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University is not worth it

Our education system is broken, outdated, ineffective, inefficient, and expensive. It was developed during the early 20th century, when industry boomed, and people flocked to factories for work. The system was designed to transform curious children into efficient factory line workers. Education prioritized learning how to do repetitive tasks, memorize information, and work in solitude—all the things that put employees in danger of becoming obsolete in the Information Age.

Humans are social beings and our world revolves around communication. These nuanced and necessary skills of communication are sought-after in all industries. Yet, there are few mandatory courses on effective communication, persuasion, or presenting. Therefore, when many students arrive at university, they are unable to articulate their ideas, properly formulate a question in class, or succeed in a job interview.  This effect is seen in almost every group project in all disciplines. Based on personal experience, groups are often poor at allocating tasks, mediating problems that arise during the process, staying on schedule, and producing a high-level submission. The world is one big collaborative experience, but university isolates us from each other so much so that when a group project does come up, we are virtually ineffective at succeeding.  

The majority of university education consists of rote memorization; from history to the sciences, exams are a regurgitation of memorized formulas, facts, and systems. This exercise is detrimental to conceptual thinking. Students tend to cram for exams and then immediately erase the information from their minds, so they can clear space for new facts for the next exam. The issue here is that memorization is not equivalent to actually understanding the material. The world does not throw textbook problems at you. Problems are variations with unforeseen angles. Memorization does not teach students how to adapt what they learn in the classroom to real life.

Passive learning continues to be problematic. It’s currently halfway through second semester and my lectures are half empty. Those who bother to show up at all are scrolling through Facebook on their laptops. And who can blame them? We are talked at for an hour and a half with little to engage or challenge us. Many students, myself included, look for outside sources when studying, as they prove more engaging and allow us to learn at our own pace. In most cases, professors have no formal training because they are researchers with their own separate work. The business of educating teachers does such a poor job that students are left to pick up the slack and learn for ourselves.

After struggling through four years, or more, we are left predominantly underemployed or  unemployed. We have all seen the headlines and heard the statistics. University graduates are out of work. And it’s not just arts students; engineers struggle to find jobs in their field as well. It is estimated that one in three university graduates aged 25-29 are employed in a low-skilled job. The new wave of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) will only increase that number.

The popular belief is that artificial intelligence will come for low paying, low-skilled jobs first. This is a misconception. Jobs such as construction and cleaning require great dexterity and movement, far more than a desk job. Many of us may have seen the video of the Boston Dynamic robot jumping on boxes. Imagine it bending down or climbing a ladder to fix plumping, grabbing tools from its belt to do electrical work. In most cases, a robot is too slow and bulky to outpace humans. However the same cannot be said for higher paying jobs, which university provides us with the tools for. Algorithms can play the stock market, fill out legal paperwork, build and analyse databases, and monitor information systems. So, while many of us forgo college in the belief that it’s a less prestigious path, it is in fact far more future proof then the ivy-lined walls of universities. Especially when electricians, plumbers, and sustainability technicians are making far more out of college than we will.

We tend to wonder, “is university worth it?” That’s the wrong question to ask. Let’s rephrase it. Is it worth it to spend four years sitting in lecture halls for a class you will not remember just to start your life $25,000 in debt, without the right tools to succeed in a fast-paced, ever-changing, unpredictable world, with advanced AI on the horizon? I would have to go with no.

—Marissa Phul, Staff Contributor

University is worth it

In contemporary Canada, university degrees are almost unbelievably common. But in recent years the costs of acquiring a degree have skyrocketed. This has called the validity of a university education into question for many people. Most people now see university as offering meager job opportunities in return for impressive student loan debt and a fancy piece of paper to frame. In spite of this, however, university is worth defending and still deserves our admiration.

When it comes to a career, if you’re going to be doing something for the rest of your life it’s important that you enjoy it. Disliking your job has severe health consequences, and is a leading factor contributing to depression. A sense of meaning is crucial to making life worth living. Though meaning can be derived from family or friends or passions, it is undeniable that whatever you spend 40 plus hours a week doing is going to have a significant impact on your psychological health and overall wellbeing. If obtaining an expensive university degree in order to acquire a low-paying job is considered a cost, then neglecting university in favor of a more fruitful but less desirable occupation should be regarded in the same light. After all, satisfaction in life is something we all seek, and it reveals itself to everybody in unique, yet archetypal ways.  

All of this is not to say that you shouldn’t consider the return on your investment. I’m acutely aware that everything I’ve said seems incredibly detached from reality if you’re working a minimum wage job trying to pay off student loan debts for an education that offered little to no occupational availability. What I am trying to say is that that return on investment should be broadened beyond mere cash value. If a degree offers intellectual fulfillment and a sense of meaning that transcends material value, then that deserves to be part of the conversation as well.

Moreover, as with anything, university is ultimately what you make of it. If you get involved in the school or in the community and cultivate friendships with a wide array of people and are able to open your mind based on new and diverse experiences then these factors indeed contribute to the value of attending university.

Lastly, when people are skeptical of the utility of a university degree, their skepticism can generally be narrowed down to a select pathway. After all, no one is denying the monetary utility of an engineering, nursing, or economics degree. These pathways, though expensive, generally offer fruitful and well-paying job opportunities at a certain point after graduation. Upon examination, most distrust of the university pathway is leveled upon the arts, which is just a single pathway amongst a plurality offered by the school. The arts get a bad rep because of their relatively low contact hours and job opportunities. But there is great sociological utility in understanding politics and power relationships, or history and hegemony. The ancient Greek word idiot meant someone who was politically uninvolved; being politically ignorant was the most contemptuous form of ignorance. Though our society has broadened the use of idiot, there is still a significant sociological problem if a large percentage of the population has an insufficient understanding of how their society runs, or who runs it. Even if this short defence of the arts is unconvincing, anyone who argues that the university as a whole isn’t worth the investment is bearing the heavy burden of also arguing the disutility of the STEM fields and so on.

—Connor Chase, Staff Contributor