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Sinead McEneaney @Sinead_McE
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I can't disagree more with the conclusions in this column. // I have my PhD, but what is the value of a university education?… via @IrishTimesLife
University education gives people a route to think differently. Academic staff, and the wonderful people who support tertiary learning, guide and push students towards knowledge, but also to reflect on their learning
It is simply not true that having broadband access allows one to acquire the same knowledge as a university education. Yes, one can find out lots of information. But information is not the same as knowledge.
Acquiring and producing knowledge involves some element of guidance, collaboration, discussion. It should not be joyless. It also does not need to be utilitarian (e.g. job focused), but it can be.
"So much of what we do at university is inefficient, silly, and without justification." Indeed, so much of what we do in life is inefficient, silly and without justification. This is the basis of every one of Beckett's and Ionesco's plays.
The process of learning is not necessarily efficient. Access to people, resources in university (from student clubs to academic seminars) allows a person to meander in the mind, to discover new things and to be pushed to think more profoundly about these things
If I want to learn how to play tennis, I can do so by watching youtube clips and spending hours banging a ball against a wall. I acquire the information. But the joy of playing happens with other people, responding, developing.
So, as we welcome a new cohort of students to our "useless" History degree, let me assure them that even if they never, ever, need to remember the dates of the 100 years war after graduation, that their degree is not silly and without justification
They will acquire knowledge about the past. They will acquire knowledge about themselves. They will be pushed to think about problems, about texts, about authenticity, and they will question truths.
They will receive guidance, from people with academic training, and people without, and from new friends from different backgrounds and experiences. They will do all of this in a supportive environment where they can take intellectual risks without negative consequence
And of course some people could do all of this on their own with a simple broadband connection. But most people don't. And doing it without guidance often takes a very long time.
Is higher education too expensive for students? Yes it is. But of course it is expensive at the point of delivery because since the early 2000s, governments have decided that there should be a direct link between education and employment
This attitude has influenced parents and students to think in terms of higher education as any other commodity, a "value for money" exchange. This utilitarian attitude undermines the experience of education, which can deliver so much more than information and qualification
Self-knowledge, skills to acquire further knowledge, a critical understanding of working with other people, assessing new ideas, challenging them, having the time and space to think and engage critically with information, knowledge and people...
... and to develop a love of something, a passion for something, even if for only a few years. That's valuable. The cost is the fault of government. Because at some point we, as a society, decided this kind of education is not a public good.
We decided that secondary school was enough for the taxpayer. That this kind of higher education had to be for people to "get a job". Not that people who were passionate and imaginative and had a malleable mind would be good for society (spoiler alert: they are)
so rather than asking these facile questions about the 'value' of education, ask why society doesn't place value on learning any more. Why we have become so utilitarian in the way we approach our lives. Why we have accepted govt policy that saddles young people with debt.
The saddest line in that column was this: "We joylessly and fruitlessly engage in the accumulation of education we don’t value or use". If the writer's experience of higher ed was joyless, then I'm very sorry for her.
Some people *do* find education joyless. But my sense from talking to students over many years from all kinds of backgrounds and abilities is that the vast majority find their degree an enjoyable, difficult, rewarding experience.
Right. Rant over now.
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