undergraduates

Graduation

It always occurred to me that even though there are so many of life’s fundamental questions that remain unanswered, there still seem to be an active support or following for a particular course of action.

Why do a degree course when you could simply get into the work force and build your way to top management in a couple of years time? Or why do a degree course if you will end up in the middle management sphere at most? Reasons for this ‘anti’ argument vary greatly. There are many reasons students find themselves tied down to academia for 3 (maybe more) years of their lives.

It is fascinating sometimes to hear the various reasons people give for being in higher education. Many of us have no other option than to study. African and to a large extent Asian parents find it sacrilegious, a taboo even to not attend and successfully complete a degree program. Some even have their career paths and indeed degree courses chosen for them. Having a ‘good Degree’ represented a sense of pride; a sense of belonging, and an opportunity for a social standing that is unparalleled. A tidal wave of consequences would normally await the wards of many who wouldn’t rethink.
This stance can be justified though since in many parts of the world, a first degree is not even enough to get you through the ever revolving doors of employment, talk less of not even having one at all.

I use to think I was one of the lucky few in this regard; My father, being an Air force pilot always either made me believe my career in life was completely left to me to decide or he didn’t participate in any discuss regarding it. This made me feel somewhat empowered to do what I felt was right for me. So if I decided not to do a degree, so be it. Right?

Looking back now, it occurred to me the little remarks and innuendo about the Air force being ‘A great way of life” a motto I carried with me and recited all my life was not just a motto, it was me being buttered up to study and either join the Air force as an officer, or study and become a pilot. I remember how as a reward for ‘good behaviour’ my brother and I were allowed into the cockpit of huge military transport planes (C130) almost on a daily basis. We weren’t that well behaved, at least not daily. He would talk about flying and the Air force non-stop and he still does. This wasn’t a punishment, neither was it any form of reward, he was simply nudging us towards a career path he felt was best above all. So much so, I nurtured an ambition to be a pilot all my life (I still do) I also ended up in the military for a short while. My brother came very close.

Some of us do it because it’s the next logical step; it follows a set pattern – primary, secondary and tertiary education. Something that just has to be done. Not because of any kind of pressure from any quarter, but simply because its logical.

Believe it or not, some others do it out of sheer curiosity. Why is 1+1 really 2? What really is the General Theory of Relativity and what does Einstein mean by this? It is true that some in academia will forever strive to conquer the summit of learning. Many are successful! If you think that attaining a Doctorate Degree is the end of true education, think again. Education is constant and continuous, and knowledge is never lost.

There is also the ‘clubbing and drinking’ culture, which also makes higher education appealing to many. Heck, who wouldn’t relish an unsupervised and wild social life? Putting the appeal of this into perspective, one can see a reason for the influx of many to Universities. Party hard, drink harder, play hardest; by the way, there’s the small issue of a degree course to consider.

The harder economic times, the recession as many know it forced the hands of most employers who somewhat unfairly subsequently attached stringent measures to their recruitment drive. One of these measures and in order to be able to stand out from the rest of the crowd was a ‘good University Degree’ as a minimum for entry. Some go as far as requesting professional courses as well as university degrees. The reaction to these sometime draconian measures was an increase in undergraduate numbers. But, there is research that supports a steady increase in salary for recent graduates; so it’s not all bad news. Keeping ahead of the competition has never been more justifiable.

Regardless of the motive, motivation and end result, certain school of thought continually refer to statistics that indicate a steady rise in graduates (at least in this country) Their argument, one might add, also lends credence to higher education being seen as the benchmark of the political leadership in the UK, a standard which is unchangeable or undiluted. To even consider going for the top job, the British Prime Minister, political acumen is and will never be enough. It is surely the norm these days to have a leader who is ‘Educated’ and this extends to leaders of mainstream political opposition as well.

But believing the above statement would mean the land is and will continue to be ruled by the educated elite. This is simply not true. On the other side of the divide, you will find strong argument supporting the notion that so many (particularly entrepreneurs) have made it to the very top without spending a day inside a lecture room. Two or three British names will continually spring to mind when laying down this argument – Sir Alan Sugar, Sir Richard Branson. If we want to go global, then Bill Gates and Steve Jobs will complete the list of names of giants of industry who did not attend university. But are they uneducated? Honorary degrees aside, could even the most worthy academic match these Billionaires toe to toe in any current, global or business issue? I think not, simply because learning and qualifications are 2 separate entities. These guys have learnt their ways to be qualified enough to hold their own in their respective industries. Truly fascinating wouldn’t you say?

This article is pregnant with questions and surely provokes a bout of self-reflection, but then it was designed to be. One thing is clear though, choosing higher education is increasingly no longer a luxury, it is gradually becoming the norm and an undeniable fact is that regardless of your rationale and reason(s), there appears to be no downside to it. It is sure! You win a prize at the end, which helps you massively in your life, and you lose nothing.

So, why are you in higher education? I can’t speak for you, but I can speak for myself. My answer is unpretentious, I have always operated on a simple ethos in life – I have a dream not a plan. In order to attain this dream, I need to attain a good degree. It’s that simple.

Kole Obasa