Sunday, 10 May 2009

The value of education

I don't watch an awful lot of TV, mainly because I wasn't really brought up with it. Being currently unemployed has meant that I now occasionally watch The Jeremy Kyle Show (there's a lovely picture of him with an explanation on an earlier post), but that's it during the day.

One programme that I always watch though is The Apprentice (UK version, on the BBC every Wednesday at 9pm between March and June). Perhaps my previous training as an accountant meant that a show about business appeals to me in some way, even if the "prize" at the end of it is to work for Sir Alan Sugar.

The candidates are often hailed as "Britain's brightest business brains". Some of them are so highly qualified it makes me embarrassed just to have a Batchelor of Science degree. Sir Alan isn't quite so intimidated. As everyone knows, he didn't even get near a degree: he left school at the age of 16 to sell car aerials out of a van. Many highly-educated candidates with a string of qualifications as long as one's arm have been bluntly cut down by Sir Alan's no-nonsense remarks. "These certificates and qualifications, all they tell any employer is that the person's got a brain," he once famously fumed. "It really doesn't matter whether someone comes to me with an MBA, an OBE, a KFC or a YMCA, as far as I'm concerned. You can't learn business practices out of a book."

Is he right? Just how important is education in the world of business - or even the world of work?

When you're at school, you're always taught that education is the key to success: if you don't work hard, you won't get good grades; and if you don't get good grades, you won't get a good degree; and if you don't get a good degree, you won't get a good job. It would seem that acquiring lots of good, solid educational qualifications is the only way to guarantee career success - or even business success. Sir Alan, it would seem, doesn't share that opinion: he once snapped at a Cambridge University-educated candidate on The Apprentice (after her disastrous attempt at running a pizza stall): "This is not some further education college, you know, where dummkopfs come to learn to make mistakes."

Clearly the lack of further education never held Sir Alan back from success. It didn't hold back a former schoolmate of mine who left school at 16: two years later he came to visit us all in the Sixth Form. There we were, at 18 years old, sweating over our A-Level revision and university application forms, and there he was - having worked his way up through his company over the previous two years - commanding a salary of £30,000 (the average starting salary for a university graduate now is about £23,000, but back in the year 2000 it was probably less than £20k).

One of the managers I worked under in my first accountancy job left school at 18, found her first job in a tiny accountancy firm on a tiny salary and persuaded them to train her for the chartered accountancy qualification. Once she qualified at the age of 21 she left them to join a bigger, world-famous firm. By the age of 25 she was already a manager on £50,000. By the age of 25 I was still struggling through my chartered accountancy qualification on a fraction of her salary. Not to mention £10,000 of student loan debt I'd incurred from getting my BSc Mathematics degree, which of course she didn't have. And I was nowhere near her seniority level.

The point I'm trying to make is, salaries aside, by the ages of 18 and 25, these people were far further along in their lives and their careers than I was at those ages. They got good enough GCSE and A-Level grades for their desired careers, then instead of going on to university (and they certainly could, if they wanted), tried to get their foot in the door of their chosen field by accepting a low-paid, low-skilled position and working their way up. Despite my top-class degree from a top-class university, at the age of 23 I still spent the first few months at the accountancy firm making tea and photocopying while I was "learning the ropes". I may have started on a higher salary than if I'd started at the age of 18, but I'd always be about 3 or 5 years behind in career progression.

Our former Prime Minister Tony Blair once pledged to have 50% of all young people in the UK in university education. Never mind that, frankly, some of these teenagers may not be suited to higher education, and as above, may not even need it. Entry to higher education certainly increased under his tenure, and so did the number of loans taken out by the Student Loan Company as a result. But, we were all promised, getting yourself into debt for a good university degree would all be worth it as you were guaranteed to get the best jobs as a result of spending an extra 3 to 5 years in a schooling environment. Try telling that to the class of 2009, who leave university in the middle of a recession only to find the "best" employers are not hiring any graduate recruits and the only jobs available are the low-skilled ones. Does one really need a degree to flip burgers in McDonalds?

There is also the issue that school and university life doesn't prepare you for the world of work. This has been a frequent complaint among a lot of graduates. At 21 I could tell you all about the Theory of Relativity and numbers on an imaginary plane, but I didn't have a clue about how to deal with office politics or the character transplant required to fit into work culture. I could tell you all about the Navier-Stokes equations for fluid dynamics, but I didn't have a clue why our office working methods were what they were.

I wasn't prepared for the fact that our office chat consisted of mindless gossip and conversations about TV programmes, instead of the debates about literature and world politics that I got used to with my university friends. I simply didn't have a clue that when your boss marches in, announcing that he's gone commando in the office because he's shit his pants and had to throw them away, you have to humour him instead of being horrified. Nothing could have prepared me for that!

So it would seem that academia doesn't prepare you either for real life or for the world of work. What worth does it have, then?

A couple of years ago I gave a talk at a local secondary school about what a career in accountancy would involve. As soon as their career advisor introduced me as an accountant I could see the whole room of 16-year-olds switch off like the lights had gone out. Only one seemed interested, and enthusiastically wrote down everything I said. There was one problem. He wanted to be an accountant, but he couldn't be bothered with his schoolwork. Particularly Maths. Now, while you don't have to be a Maths genius to be an accountant (in fact, it probably helps if you aren't!), you do need to be good at basic arithmetic. If you don't have a good GCSE and/or A-Level Maths grade by the age of 18, then forget it: no self-respecting firm is going to employ a trainee accountant who can't count.

It's not just accountancy: you'd be surprised how important basic mathematical skills are for day-to-day living. Particularly with financial matters: at best it stops you paying more than you necessarily need to; at worst it stops you being completely ripped off.

On The Apprentice a few weeks ago, Paula, a human resources manager, received the "You're Fired" treatment from Sir Alan and crashed out of the competition despite having come up with a brilliant body-care product and organising her team efficiently. The reason? A simple arithmetic error arising from mixing up two essential oils meaning she'd spent over £700 instead of the £5 she thought she'd spent. Paula's bleating that "I'm no good at numbers" was viewed dimly. It was basic maths that we all learned in school.

Other work and life skills build on school learning too: if you've never bothered to learn to spell or use grammar properly, you can't expect other people to understand what you've written. Business clients will think you are unprofessional and incompetent. When applying for a job, it could even annoy the person who is reviewing your application. Computer spell-checkers don't always pick up spelling or grammar mistakes, so it still means you have to learn these academic skills at some point.

Increasingly employers are demanding an ever-widening set of academic skills, such as foreign language skills and basic geographic knowledge. So ignoring your teachers may not be such a good idea after all.

Some professions actually need a relevant university degree: if you want to be a doctor you need to do a degree in medicine. My boyfriend works in IT but he has a Computer Science degree. Sir Alan's assertion that educational qualifications "only tell an employer that person's got a brain" is therefore not entirely true.

Personally, I don't regret the time I spent at university. I'd wanted to go since the age of 11, and being Little Miss Straight "A" Student without much effort meant that there was no way I wasn't going to go. If I had my time all over again, I'd still have gone to university, even if I might have picked a different subject. I loved my time at university. Not only did I get to be independent, I learned how to cook, how to live on a shoestring budget, how to interact with people from vastly different social backgrounds - and cultures - from me. I met great people and got to challenge my brain. I took advantage of all the opportunities I didn't get at school - student journalism, living with friends, martial arts classes and so on. I learned how other people lived, worked, and thought. I learned so many things that I never would have known if I never went to university.

I also learned that life is what you make it. The greatest education in life is that of life itself, but your academic education is of as much value as you make of it. And sometimes the uses you find for your education can be quite unexpected.
The writers of the musical Avenue Q have degrees in English Literature, commonly seen as a "useless" degree that doesn't lead to anything, career-wise... so they wrote a song in Avenue Q called "What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?" You can't argue that they didn't make use of that!
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  1. Interesting!
    I've always thought universities needed to incorporate more real-life skills in the classroom. I mean I can understand why I may need to take certain classes, but other ones just seem to be a waste of time and money.

  2. Having a university degree is useful because you get to apply for better jobs. With a certain level of education comes a certain level of job as well. But experience also plays a big role. I'm so agree with you with the fact that university doesn't prepare us for the real world. But I guess that's why many companies always provide training for the rookie, right? You'll get a hang of how things are done eventually.

  3. Hi guys, thanks for your comments! I don't think there's an easy answer to this one which is why I thought I'd debate it.

    It's so true. University is a great experience by itself, but some classes and courses are a waste of time and money. I do think schools and universities need to incorporate more real-life skills in the classroom; just reading or hearing about a job isn't enough. Perhaps a couple of half-day courses with a mock case study to show what the day-to-day job is like? I went on a firm's accountancy open day for graduates and that's what they put out for us - and that taught me more about the job than a few paragraphs about how the job is "an exciting challenge". You are totally right.

    Funny thing is, I think you're right too. I think my point was that some jobs that say they require a degree (like training to be a chartered accountant) really don't, as proved by the girl who left school at 18. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't trade my university experience for the world, but in terms of the jobs and careers I either have done or would have wanted to do, I probably would have been better off leaving school at 18 and finding work.

    Companies do provide training for the rookie, but you're a lot older when you start as a rookie if you've been to university. So you'll always be a couple of years behind than those who started at the age of 18.

    My complaint is that thanks to Tony Blair lots of young people are pushing themselves to go to university when they often don't need it. From the point of view of a job, what's the point of making yourself go to some really poor university and doing a degree like Australian Studies when you can take a couple of years off to work in Australia and read up about its history and culture on the way? It'll help meet Tony Blair's target of 50% of young people in higher education, but frankly, coming out of it at 21 with a BA in Australian Studies hardly qualifies you for a job and you'd probably be wasting your money.

    I'm not picking on Australia here - it's a fine country - I'm just pointing out one example of when you're probably better off NOT doing a degree. Hell, I don't even know if there IS a course in Australian Studies (though I know there are degrees in "American Studies" because a school friend of mine did one).

  4. Hi there! Thanks for stopping by my bolg and becoming a follower...I came by to check yours out...although I do love cofee I switch after mroning to never fear, I am a tea lover as well lol! The university question is a tough one. I think the UK isn't as bad as the US right now (10% unemployment rate) but it is still hurting too. I went to university for 10 yrs and so many of the things you say ring true. Since I am in Art History it is incredibly specialized and therefor really hard to find work. Most positions are temporary and very few become permanent until you have at minimum 10-15 years work experience, this is the boat I am in now. And I too had my first awakening to the "office" just like you wrote. I thought being an instructor at a college meant constant intellectual stimulation...but it really meant go to lunch with ppl, hear about their daily bitchings, and the academic interests must still keep flowing but on your own time, yeah, like we have soooo much freetime teaching/grading/family/and keeping track of lame office politics. I hear you loud and clear m'lady!

  5. Interesting debate. It's true that the contents of a degree don't really give you the skills you need for most jobs, and it does make you wonder a bit why schools put such an emphasis on going to university when there are clearly plenty of people who have got on just fine without (could it have anything to do with prospective parents judging them on how many of their students go on to university I wonder? :) )

    However I think on balance I come down in favour of going to university:
    a) in spite of the irrelevance of what you learn, so many people do go to university now that instead of a degree being a bit unusual and giving you the edge, not having a degree has become a bit unusual and could count against you
    b) it's not all about what goes on inside the classroom
    c) if academic study is something you enjoy (of course it's far from being everyone's cup of tea) and if you can afford to take the time (and have good financial support), the learning is worth it for purely personal un-career-related reasons of enjoyment and mind-challenging.

    On point b), I went to university twice (an undergraduate degree, and then, after a gap of 2 years, a masters). The first time I was a bit lazy and I didn't really get involved with any of the societies or student magazines or anything. When I graduated and was trying to fill in all those application forms that ask things like 'Give an example of a time when you showed leadership', that was pretty tricky. And I completely didn't have the skills for the world of work. But the second time I decided to throw myself into things- I was involved with three or four societies, an environmental rep for my halls, helped with some campaigns, and took pictures for the student newspaper. I learnt such a lot. And I got to try things and make mistakes in a situation where it didn't really matter (unlike those people on The Apprentice!) That was something really valuable that I couldn't have got from going straight into work, where I would have been more committed to one thing and it would have mattered a lot more if I'd screwed up. (Of course, you could get the same experience by spending a year volunteering- but then you'd probably have to stay living with your parents). In the end, I did need both my degrees for my job (I went into academia, so a lot of the stuff about degrees being irrelevant for the workplace doesn't apply to me :) ), but I think my extra-curricular experiences were still equally important, and I wouldn't have been able to do my job without them.

  6. T:
    Thanks for your comment and for becoming my new follower! A 10% unemployment is indeed pretty high! I completely agree with you and can sympathise with your experiences - education never prepared any of us for the realities of working life at all!

    Thanks for your post as well! There are certain jobs that DO need a degree and proof of a high level of intelligence, and it sounds like you've found a job that required one. Personally I wouldn't swop my university experience for the world, although I'd probably do a different degree... but in terms of the jobs I've done or want to do, I certainly didn't need my degree for any of them. Like I said I'd still have gone to university though as I've always been more academic than practical, but the fact still remains that for the majority of us, school and university education didn't prepare us adequately for the job market.

  7. Interesting post. I understand that a good education is a great way to broaden the horizons so to speak. If you know what you want to do for the rest of your life then a lifetime of experience is much more valuble than a piece of paper that tells someone else what you already know.
    I think that this is all down to how money driven you are. Shows like the apprentice and dragon's den is very money driven and only the people who have clever ideas, experience in certain fields and the courage to withstand failure are the ones most likely to succeed.
    The English education system is seriously flawed as well and misleads you into believing that without higher education you are destined to fail. You have lit a spark in me now! I might right a post about this lol!

  8. I don't regret the years I spent getting my degree either, though at times I wonder if I'd have been better off volunteering to do the photocopies at Pixar and getting my dream job that way. One guy, I hear, did get his dream job there that way. But those years were a great time of experimenting, of making life long friends, and gaining certain life experiences difficult to get elsewhere.

    On the other hand, it's true it didn't fully prepare me for real working world, office politics especially.

    But even though university isn't right for everybody, whether it's right for oneself or not is something a person can only know through experience. If it's a mistake, at least it's usually a fun one.

  9. Hi Faker!

    The English education system is seriously flawed, I agree. Higher education improves your chances of success in life, but doesn't guarantee - and going without it doesn't mean you are destined to fail. Otherwise how else do you explain Sir Alan Sugar and Amstrad, Richard Branson and Virgin, or even Michelle Mone and Ultimo Bras? They all left school at 16 without many qualifcations. But when they left school, they made sure they learnt what they needed to in order to succeed in the things they did.

    I really liked your quote that "....only the people who have clever ideas, experience ... and the courage to withstand failure are the ones most likely to succeed." I would probably add "the capacity to work hard" to the list, but I think your quote is true of many aspects of life, actually, not just business and careers - and certainly not just true for the "money-driven" aspects of life or people. I certainly could apply that quote to my love life actually! I might use your quote in another post a bit later if that's all right with you? I do rather like it.

  10. Oops, sorry Cheryl, I didn't realise you'd left a comment until the page reloaded after I posted mine - sorry! I'm not sure why my computer chose to show your comment after I'd replied to Faker, but anyway.

    I completely agree with you. University was fun and not to be regretted, but I couldn't help noticing that the people who were mediocre at their schoolwork were the people who made the best workers. And sometimes the people who had been the brightest at their academic work were rubbish at their chosen careers! Both sides have their pros and cons I think, but you are correct in observing that the university experience isn't something that can easily be replicated in other parts of life.

  11. Love this post - it shows a good realistic balance of what university is and maybe is not - I think about people I've interviewed for jobs adn while they have great work and "technical" experience, they are not great with people - not a course that we have at university and so essential today, more than knowing the square root of a number. BTW, saw Avenue Q in NYC and London - love it. :) Thanks for this great post ATB!

  12. Excellent post! I agree, college does not prepare you for the real world as far as office politics and the inner workings of an office, even in the States. And though it's a great experience, there are definitely down sides, that being one of them.

  13. I feel like you have delved into my brain and stolen my thoughts! This is spooky, i was going to do a post on this soon! I feel exactly the same way as you. I am far worse off than all the people i knew at school who didn't go to university. They are all in relatively well paid jobs, having worked their way up, while I am unemployed with 2 degrees. It sucks. I've felt for a long time now that university is pointless. By making it available to all people, we've downgraded its value. I know that sounds harsh but its true.

    I'm of two minds about regretting the university thing. Part of me thinks i would be further in my career had i left school and gone into work and the other part of me thinks differently. This part is grateful that i became independent, met some wonderful people who i will know the rest of my life and also, i learned a lot. It is just annoying trying to prove that while i don't have work-experience per se, i do have experience. Surely that counts for something?!

    I think the solution is to change the way university education is used. Adapt it. Make going out to work part of the degree. And stop making it just a stop-gap in kids lives while they figure out what they want to do. That's just pointless (and scarily, the reason why most people go to uni).

  14. I forgot to say, excellent excellent post btw! And sorry for the long comment but you drew attention to something i feel very strongly! :)

  15. Feel free to use anything I say in your blogs!(It fuels my ego!:p) I wouldn't say "work hard" but i would say "work smart".

    I didn't say that without higher education, you are destined to fail. I meant that in schools they mislead you to think that. When I was younger, I and many of the people my age were told that without good grades and a good degree you can't achieve major success.
    After graduating from uni though I know this is not the case because even if you go to uni you are more likely to leave with debt. And if you graduate during a recession the debt gets bigger and it takes a long time to pay that off. So how long does it take before you are achieving major success?

  16. A few thoughts to add to the debate: One-off examples of wildly (or mildly) successful people who didn't finish or attend secondary education are often used in debates on the value of higher education. But it is necessary to note that they are the exception and not the rule. I think it is also useful to remember that we are evaluating their decision after their success. When Bill Gates was working out of his garage with his buddies, you would have been right to regard his decision to drop out of college as a foolish one. While he was sweating it out and hoping for an IPO, his contemporaries were starting at their entry level jobs and making a nice salary. Now his success is a forgone conclusion and all the decisions he made are evaluated through the prism of his success. But I don't think college is the point in his story or in any of the other examples cited above, it is the risk, vision, ambition, and hard work of those people that begat success. That they never finished or started secondary education is a footnote. If his classmates had done the same thing he had done, they would probably be working at Burger King.

    Regarding the squishier value of education, a link to a commencement speech that I like:

  17. Blimey. Thanks for the responses guys! Now how am I going to respond to you all?

    Laura C:
    Like you I've met people who applied for jobs at the accountancy firm I worked at, and while on paper they looked great, in practice meeting them was a severe disappointment. I'm not sure if that's something education as it currently stands can necessarily remedy.

    And yes I've seen Avenue Q in London too and loved it - though it meant I was singing "The Internet Is For Porn" for a week!

    Greenback Savvy:
    Thanks - I'm glad you liked my post! I shall head over and check out your latest post in a moment :-)

    Aw, I'm sorry - I didn't steal your thoughts, honest! Please still do a post anyway, I want to hear your side of the story! And as for saying "by making [university] available to all people, we've downgraded its value", I couldn't have put it better myself... though I feel slightly guilty about holding that opinion. But the truth is, a lot of people in university (certainly in the UK) simply DON'T NEED TO GO. A lot of them are using it as a stop-gap in their lives while they figure out what they want to do.

    OK, there are some people (like, say, the medics and lawyers) who are getting their degrees because it's necessary for their desired jobs, and there are some people (like most of my friends and I presume yourself too) who are going for their own personal satisfaction: because they love their subject and want to take their knowledge further. But there are some people, like a boy I know who failed most of his A-Levels, who only went because by his own admission he didn't want to go to work: he went to a not-very-good university (I won't name it) that wouldn't look on his CV/resumé, and did a degree in Music Technology Studies or something... and came out of it and was unemployed for a couple of years, because he couldn't get a job with that degree. And worse still, he didn't even want a job in the music or sound industry anyway, so hell knows why he did that degree in the first place.

    So for someone like him, he'd really have been better off just getting a job instead of spending thousands of pounds getting a degree he couldn't use. The problem is, there are a lot of young people like him.

    Good to hear you're back! I know you didn't say that "without higher education, you're destined to fail" - I know you said schools mislead you like that, so I'm sorry if it came across that way. But I thought I'd challenge the (schools) viewpoint anyway, because it's what we all got told as well, and it's clearly not entirely true. I know people from Oxford or Cambridge with top-class degrees who found it far harder to get a job than I ever did. One Cambridge University graduate that I know was unemployed for at least five years before running off to Dublin and becoming a choir-singer in a Catholic church...

    Thanks for the commencement speech, it certainly made me consider a viewpoint I'd never considered before. Some of the examples of wildly/mildly successful people are one-offs, but certainly in the UK I have met a lot of people with better degrees (and sometimes from better universities) than me who can't get a job.

    I don't know what the education system is like in the US, but in the UK, until a few years when fees increased dramatically it was fairly easy for most teenagers to get into higher education, thanks to Tony Blair's naive vision of 50% of all young people in university education. As Lou said, by making university available to everyone, regardless of their suitability for it, we've downgraded its value. It's now got to the point that if you want to go for a good job, employers don't really look at the degree or university so much anymore: they look at what employable skills you've acquired from doing non-academic things. The only reason any employer cares about the degree or university is in many cases down to the snob factor.

    I don't mean to sound fascist when I say that by making university available to everyone, regardless of their suitability for it, we've downgraded its value - if someone REALLY REALLY wants to go, then regardless of social class, background or finances, they should. I just think more of us should question the assumption that a university education automatically equals a successful life. It doesn't. The Oxford and Cambridge graduates I met who couldn't get a job (or in one case, got fired for being rubbish at the job) illustrate that perfectly, even though Oxford and Cambridge are supposedly two of the best universities in the world.

    I think you've said it yourself about Bill Gates - it was the risk, vision, ambition and hard work of people like him that begat success. In the end it didn't matter whether he got his degree or not: Bill Gates succeeded because he was Bill Gates, to put it tritely. He worked hard (and smart) at what he needed to and had a good dollop of luck on the way.

    Could we really be so sure that his classmates, if they'd done the same thing and dropped out of university, would have been working at Burger King? Many uni graduates in the UK, between the year 2000 and now, have still ended up working in McDonalds or serving beer in pubs despite not dropping out themselves....

  18. P.S. Sorry I made it so long - I just wanted to respond properly to everyone :-) Plus I love getting a good debate going!

  19. I think there are some differences between the UK and US re: education as it is still necessary for many, many jobs. A degree of any kind is necessary to even apply though some will now count equivalent experience which has to be significant to be competitive with your degree toting peers. It's also becoming necessary for advancement past a certain level. I myself am trying to figure out when to go back for a masters degree to remain competitive for senior positions as I progress in my career. Higher education is also very important for our minorities (myself included) for reasons that are outside the lines of this debate and far too long to go into. Good job sparking such an interesting discussion!

  20. Another interesting article. I once used to think that higher education was one of the least important things one needed to succeed, but I learnt by observation and from a lot of people(including people who succeeded a great deal without even completing their O-level equivalents) that it 'was' at one time quite unnecessary but is 'now' extremely important. In Sir Alan's days, there were a lot more opportunities and a lot less competition. He could've just bought some property and waited extremely short periods of time to watch it's prices boom to extremely high levels. Businesses started during that time have climbed on to become near monopolies. Take Sir Alan's personal qualities without his experiences and put them into someone else born in this age. Do you think that person would have a great chance of becoming the next Sir Alan? I doubt it.

    However, nowadays I think one needs to have an education to be able to compete and put oneself on the fast track to succeed. And just as you said, the experiences during higher education are extremely crucial to learning. The mentioned people who were very successful without going for higher education demonstrated extraordinary aptitude and resolve just in their actions. If the same people were to go for a higher education, perhaps they'd be more successful. Ofcourse, that may not be certain, but at least that's what I personally think.

  21. Ava:
    Yeah, I have noticed that in other countries, far more than the UK, you need a degree for a lot of jobs - taking the accountancy example (because it's what I know) in Australia and New Zealand (and probably the US? I wouldn't know) you need to have done an accountancy degree to be considered for a trainee accountancy job... whereas in Britain I've known people with BA degrees in History or even English Literature who became trainee accountants - and like I've mentioned, I've even met the odd trainee accountant who doesn't have any university degree at all.

    Obviously, some sort of education is important for any role, it's just debatable how much. And like you say, the job market is becoming ever more competitive - certain industries demand ever more qualifications and skills in order to even be CONSIDERED for a role.

    Yet paradoxically you get some employers that DON'T look on it so favourably. When my brother was applying for graduate trainee roles (all of which demanded a good Batchelors degree from a good university, of course), one interviewer asked him why did he go on to do a Masters instead of just going into the world of work - they felt he hadn't shown any "commitment" by spending an extra year in university! Outrageous if you ask me.

    Thanks to you too for your comment! I guess it's obvious that I'm still not sure which side of the debate I fall on as they both have valid points (although I loved my university days, obviously. I still think I should have done another degree course though!)

    One thing to think about: Are you really sure that there were more opportunities in Sir Alan's day? Perhaps the opportunities now have simply changed rather than decreased?

    I'm not saying you're right or wrong, but non-university graduates are still continuing to build large businesses, whether that's Michelle Mone of Ultimo Lingerie, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, or even Alex Tew of who created it to raise money to put him through university (he quit the University of Nottingham after a term after making a million dollars from that homepage, and has used the money to set up his own business).

    Of course, success in life and work isn't just financial, I guess I mention it simply because it's the easiest criterion to measure (and one that springs to most people's minds). But like I said, I've known Cambridge and Oxford graduates with first-class honours degrees who can't get jobs - one was unemployed for five years before running off to Dublin and becoming a choir-singer in a Catholic church. Now, he really didn't need his Classics degree for that.

    I was interested in your comment that "people who were very successful without going for higher education demonstrated extraordinary aptitude and resolve just in their actions". From my experience that could equally apply to people who have been successful WITH higher education too! :-) Plus, for both cases, a good dollop of luck always helps :-)

    I suppose I just wanted to get a debate going and get people questioning the received wisdom that university = success, no degree = no success. I'm now beginning to think the only answer to the debate is "It depends"!!!!

    Thanks to all of you for all your comments!!!!

  22. Heheheh ... I just open this post again, and look at all the debate that is going on! Congratulation, ATB :)
    Oh btw, thanks for following me too.

  23. It sucks to be you! - haha just kidding - I love Avenue Q.

    I think back in the day, it was easier to leave school and pick an apprenticeship or go straight into work. At my first job, everyone had been there since they were 16 and pay day drinks were set in stone. But at some undefined point, it became de rigeur to go to university - it's a natural path all students are supposed to take. Polytechnics have turned into universities and the government have encouraged 18 year olds to leverage themselves like UK banks to fund their way through degrees that are neither here nor there (you can read Surfing as a degree somewhere, can't remember where. Am pretty sure there was a Spice Girls course you could take at some point too). It shouldn't be a set road for everyone to take - those 3 years could be spent much better for some. Entrepreneurs like Alan Sugar could probably replicate that success today but someone without a degree now could not realistically hope to be a manager at a big bank when there are so many graduates out there (of varying quality mind..)

    I wouldn't change my university life at all, it really was the best time of my life, and I agree - there are things I learnt in my 4 years that could never be replicated elsewhere. I feel very lucky to be where I am.

  24. Heheh...

    See, this is what happens when you reopen a debate, you get some random stranger commenting after you that it sucks to be me :-) Nah, just kidding, you can post what you like. It's my pleasure to be following you by the way :-)

    I wouldn't go so far as to say it sucks to be me, I'm not Gary Coleman yet! Ha ha. Love Avenue Q as well - they're re-showing it in London next month and I sooooo want to see it again! :-)

    Obviously having a degree is imperative in some cases (e.g. doctors, lawyers, architects for example) but I agree some of the universities are offering absolutely flippin' useless degrees. Lou at the blog said that there is one university offering a BA in BEEKEEPING. I ask you!

    Like you, university was the best 3 years of my life (well, that and the China trip the year after it) but it didn't teach me anything that I could have put down on my CV as a useful employable skill. It DID teach me a lot of things that I wouldn't be able to live my life without, but again, not exactly things for employers look for on a CV.

    I didn't know you couldn't be a manager at a big bank nowadays without a degree - what about on last year's Apprentice where you had that Matt Lucas/Dafydd lookalike Kevin Shaw who was supposedly a bank manager without a degree? Now, he really was the only merchant banker in the village :-)