Why the Univer­sity of Life is the best train­ing

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - COMMENT - Mary mary.carr@mailon­sun­day.ie COM­MENT Carr WRITE TO MARY AT The Ir­ish Mail on Sun­day, Em­bassy House, Balls­bridge, Dublin 4

WHEN my friend an­nounced that she was okay with her clever daugh­ter not go­ing to col­lege, the col­lec­tive smiles of her com­pan­ions col­lapsed in hor­ri­fied dis­be­lief. ‘If I had told them I was giv­ing my house to Fa­ther Peter McVerry and mov­ing into a mo­bile home they could not have been more shocked,’ she said. ‘It was like I’d lost my mind.’

Men­tally my friend is fir­ing on all cylin­ders but, as a grad­u­ate of the Eight­ies when a univer­sity de­gree had more ca­chet than to­day, she knows a bit of what re­ally goes on within the hal­lowed halls of academe.

Ide­ally she’d like her daugh­ter to go to col­lege but the girl has no in­ter­est in fur­ther study and my friend has even less in shelling out thou­sands of euro for her to en­joy the so­cial side of col­lege life.

‘I’d pre­fer to give her the cash to set up a lit­tle busi­ness or travel the world,’ she ex­plained.

This at­ti­tude may be un­usual but as the bill for third level spi­rals thanks to soar­ing tu­ition and ac­com­mo­da­tion costs, it may be­come more preva­lent.

Faced with the noose of a life­long stu­dent loan, a univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion may start seem­ing like too much trou­ble for too lit­tle re­ward.

Also the more Mil­len­ni­als that fol­low the herd to Trin­ity or Let­terkenny IT, the more the lus­tre fades.

MORE sig­nif­i­cant, how­ever, than cost or loss of éclat in the de­cline of the pub­lic’s slav­ish de­vo­tion to third-level ed­u­ca­tion may be the chang­ing na­ture of work and the death of the idea of a ‘job for life’. In the brave new world that awaits us where work will be­come rad­i­cally re­de­fined and, ac­cord­ing to some pundits, even­tu­ally re­dun­dant, work­ers may need to be armed with some­thing other than a cum laude de­gree. Ed­u­ca­tion may no longer be the great equaliser or guar­an­tee of up­ward mo­bil­ity.

En­tre­pre­neur­ial flair, sales abil­ity and think­ing out­side the prover­bial box may be the skills that open the doors of op­por­tu­nity. The ge­nius of the Ap­ple gad­gets was their de­sign orig­i­nal­ity not their tech­ni­cal wiz­ardry.

It is likely that the next rev­o­lu­tion will be pro­pelled by a sim­i­lar mind­set – one that can­not be taught on a univer­sity cam­pus but can be en­cour­aged in many walks of life.

There are signs al­ready of cre­ative in­dus­tries like pub­lish­ing, wak­en­ing up to the lim­i­ta­tions of a de­gree.

Pen­guin has stopped ask­ing for a de­gree as an en­try-level re­quire­ment, while EY (for­merly Ernst & Young) in the UK has changed its re­cruit­ment process, so that a 2:1 de­gree or A-level grades are no longer re­quired.

Em­ploy­ers are be­gin­ning to re­alise that in­tel­li­gent and ca­pa­ble peo­ple come from all sorts of back­grounds and that we don’t all have to go to univer­sity to learn.

Of course, there are ca­reers where spe­cial­ist knowl­edge is es­sen­tial – trans­la­tors must have lan­guage flu­ency, sci­en­tific re­search needs well trained grad­u­ates.

But there are far more young peo­ple study­ing half-heart­edly for de­grees that have no bear­ing on ei­ther their per­sonal or pro­fes­sional in­ter­ests than there are stu­dents tak­ing cour­ses they’ve had their hearts set on since for­ever.

THE top-rank­ing schools in the league tables of­ten show 100% pro­gres­sion rates to univer­sity. This is the gold stan­dard – the goal to which all schools should strive. But tables can’t tell us how many stu­dents are in col­lege, sim­ply be­cause they have nowhere bet­ter to go.

The school leaver who can imag­ine pos­si­bil­i­ties other than the well­trod­den path to univer­sity may not be left in the wilder­ness.

Not if in­de­pen­dent thinkers and in­no­va­tors be­come the new elite and em­ploy­ers want them on their staff, rather than overe­d­u­cated clones.

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