How useful is a university degree? Many parents want their children to go to university, and to those students who are able to, university seems to be a default ‘final’ stop in education before officially going out to society. But a university degree does not seem so useful at times, with many people going on to work at jobs that has totally nothing to do with what they studied. Furthermore, the debt which one gets himself into takes a long time to pay. It is no wonder why so many people are starting to think if higher education is really necessary.
In the past when many are uneducated, those who managed to graduate from university were looked upon as talents, as someone capable. They were able to get good jobs and companies paid them well. Afterall, in a society where most do not receive a decent level of education, a graduate is able to do higher order work such as administrative work, general management and the like. However, as society progresses and people become more affluent, they also wanted their children to get a higher education, to get a job in the office wearing a nice suit and to be respected. Above all, with a higher education, they could command a higher salary.
Now, as more and more people graduate from universities, the supply of graduates increased significantly. This comes to a point where if you pick up a stone and throw at a crowd, chances are the stone will hit a university graduate. This is why we can see in certain countries in the West, blue collar workers such as plumbers and electricians can actually earn a salary comparable to that of a white collar worker. A truck driver does not have difficulty surviving and supporting his family. That is because the supply of blue collar workers have dropped, and those who now have the actual skills of either an electrician or a plumber has reduced in numbers. Met with a lesser number of blue collar workers, the salary can only increase in order to attract more to come in. When supply of graduates were low, those who graduated from universities could command a good salary. As the supply of graduates increases, the demand and supply curve balances itself just like any other market, and now we see a balance.
Yet despite the balance, we still have many people aiming for universities. In fact, top universities such as the Ivy League has no shortage of people wanting to go in, by hook or by crook. It only goes to show that universities does have its merits. I need to clarify here that this post does not aim to encourage or discourage people to get a higher education, but to look into the necessity into doing so. Everybody’s situation is different and it is up to the individual to decide what is best for them, according to their situation.
First, there are certain professions which definitely require a university degree as the basic criteria for entry. Jobs like doctors, lawyers and scientists definitely requires a proper university degree. The doctor will go on to do his internship and do on-site learning after his graduation. The lawyer will go on to clear his bar. Scientists may not necessarily be like those who work for CERN or NASA, but in the broader term they do research, which can be for multi-national companies (MNCs) too. Intel’s chips need to be continually researched, DuPont needs people to continually improve on its chemicals, Huawei needs engineers to upgrade its network, Nvidia needs to ensure it is at the top of the race, etc. The list goes on. In every research area listed above and more, a certain level of professionalism and expertise is required, and the universities pass on the basic knowledge to its students, with the university degree certifying that a particular individual is equipped with the basic knowledge and skillset required to enter the industry.
At the same time we see people doing jobs that are totally unrelated to what they studied. I am one good example. I graduated with 2 degrees, one in Business and one in Mathematical Sciences with a major in Statistics and a minor in Public Administration. With an academic qualification like that, my first proper job was in the real estate arm of the Government, dealing with Government land. Many of my colleagues graduated in Real Estate though, yet we are doing the same job despite me having no prior qualifications. After that I went on to another sector in the Government doing some glorified hard labour job which requires a degree. Whatever I did had no relations to what I studied. Then why is there a need to study?
Sad to say, even though many of the jobs out there are not too technical, many of them still requires a university degree. This not only applies to the Government sector, but the MNCs and even many small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Only when you produce a university degree, will they recognise you as someone of a certain calibre and open the gates of their recruitment to you. Let’s say you manage to get in without a university degree, you will only be doing a lower level job with little career progression. Afterall every organisation still needs the cleaner, the man doing the filing, the dispatch lady and the like – the support roles. There are administrative support roles too. But without a degree, you are doomed to float around in the slums no matter how well you perform. I have met many people getting forced to get a basic useless degree just to break the glass ceiling and climb up to the next level. I also had a friend who had to take a Master’s degree before he was awarded the role of Director in the organisation he worked in.
In this case, we can say that getting a university degree is important only in getting recognised and being given the opportunity to work and perform. Getting a degree is like obtaining a licence for you to work in certain organisations and get paid relatively better than those who did not. That is the case for me. Whether we like it or not, that is the truth and if you want to get hired into a good company or organisation, doing a decent job and getting a decent salary, you have to get a degree. Even insurance agents, who called themselves financial advisors now, show off their university qualifications in their namecards when the whole industry is also full of people who did not complete higher education. Yet when all of them are doing the same job, the namecard which reflect the higher education seems to be giving clients an assurance that the financial advisors know what they are doing.
Of course there are always people who do not go along this path. The blue collar workers, although just as important in any society, sadly have often been looked down upon. Those who tell you that all jobs are equal and that all jobs are to be respected are just spewing off either their hypocrisy or idealism. Truth is jobs are indeed differentiated according to class and social status. Are blue collar jobs deserving of respect? Definitely. They earn clean and honest money through hard work. They contribute to the society too and pay their taxes. But are they treated with respect across society? Sadly no. We live in a very harsh and realistic world. Just because I respect them does not mean that the others do. Let’s face it too – a McDonald guy flipping burger is just different from a university lecturer.
Respect and social status aside, we will only look at one thing, as usual – money. If today you are a blue collar worker, say a truck driver, earning $5000 a month, is there a need to take a degree? That will depend on your career’s progression. Most blue collar workers are labour intensive, meaning it is all well and good when you are young. But when you are old, you are not able to keep up with such labour intensive job anymore. You will need to plan ahead. What are you going to do in 20 years time when you are old and your energy not as much? Will you now run a team of truck drivers for the company and manage them from behind the scenes? If so, what will you need to do to get there? Will your boss require some sort of professional qualification, even if it is not a university degree? What makes you stand out from the other 20 truck drivers who slogged for the company for 15 years?
If you are unsure, and especially if you are living in a place where education is either cheap or free, go get it. The benefits of education is enormous. I will not debate on the benefits of education here. The benefits are real, although in this topic we are discussing the need of getting higher education. Although you may not need it, it certainly opens up many more opportunities and broaden your horizons.
In conclusion, these are the few things for you to consider:
1. If you are going for real technical high level jobs with specific expertise required – take a university degree.
2. If you are going for general white collar jobs – take a university degree and open up more doors for yourself
3. If you are in a blue collar job earning decent money – think about what you want in the future. If it requires you to get a higher education, then do what is necessary.
4. If you are in a blue collar job and does not like it, take a part time degree and upgrade yourself. Once you get the paper on hand, the doors are opened.