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This is something that has only recently been brought to my attention. Someone asked me a few weeks ago about the real reason why I have come to university, what I wanted to gain from it and how I thought it would improve my quality of life. Obviously, I thought that I am here to gain a greater level of knowledge, and potentially increase my chances of getting a better job. However, what is it that university is teaching us?

Doing a degree in psychology I thought that I would have the opportunity of going into many different job areas once I had gained my degree, but that has been reports suggesting that graduates are not going into very skilled job carreers, almost a fifth of graduates are unemployed. Typically, graduates aged 21-64 earn a wage of about £15 an hour, compared to others without a degree earning £9 an hour. The best paid graduates are those of medicine and dentistry,  but those of arts and humanities will only earn an everage of £12 an hour (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-17271263). In my opinion, medicine and dentistry are very taught, skilled degrees that are aimed towards specified jobs, but psychology is not like that at all. So what are we being taught?

I have slowly began to realise that all the information we are taught in lectures is available in books, and with increase use of the internet, we can find any of the information online ourselves. I have found this since starting on my project proposal, I know more about my project within six weeks, compared to any other module- even though I have not been taught anything or had a lecture on any of it. So why not learn everything in this way? We pay a lot of money to think that we are going to gain knowledge, but discover that the only way we are going to learn is if we find the information ourselves. There are many papers that try to explain why this is the case, leading to me thinking that having to learn something by ourselves and search for the information, it enhances our level of retention (http://bjorklab.psych.ucla.edu/research.html).

So if we do not need the university to learn the information, what are we paying for other than a piece of paper to say we have a degree?

We are not here to learn, we are here to become more employable (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-13013994).  The university experience helps us experience problems that we have to overcome and carry on with our lives and studies, just like we would have to do later in life with a job and a family. As well as this, many of us improve in skills that would be vital in a job, such as communication skills (both written and verbal) and computer skills. If you apply for a job, they are not going to interested in what you can tell them about Bandura’s Bobo doll study, they are going to look at how your can put across the information to someone else that knows nothing about it. These are the skills that university teach us, this is why we come to university and how we get these ideal jobs that we all hope for.


Comments on: "University: Why are we actually here?" (15)

  1. I definitely agree with your point that the information we learn in lectures/seminars etc can end up being made redundant, and for us to never use again. Give it a year or two and most of us probably won’t be able to remember how neurons fire or the elements of EIBI! Education seems to focus on us being able to remember information for an exam, but not for us to retain it in later life. One way in which schooling could be improved then is to use aspects of psychology such as the testing effect, whereby frequent testing dramatically increases individuals’ retention, compared to studying for that same time (http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09541440701326097). The point however is that schools are not always so focussed on this, but perhaps are trying to teach us new skills and use the content as a way to do this. The testing effect however can also aid this and has been shown to help with the learning of skills and adapted to numerous other ways (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2923.2008.03245.x/full). It then seems that education is primarily about skills and being able to overcome problems, rather than the content we are taught. However it is through psychological research, like the testing effect, that can aid this development.

  2. This is an interesting topic you have brought up. I agree with you about being able to learn a lot of what we are being taught from books and the internet. I think one of the problems nowadays is that so many people have degrees that in a way they are becoming meaningless. In addition to this, a lot of people coming out of university are being left jobless because they are seen as over qualified for certain jobs. It is a shame that in some cases people with degrees cannot get a simple job to pay the bills, when they havn’t got the experience to go into higher degrees of what they actually want to do. I mean, after university some people might want to have a break from education and simply work in tesco to gain a bit of extra money, but being ‘over qualified’ they cannot do this. Moreover, they do not have the experience or money to get themselves into further education to get better jobs in their chosen area. I think this topic has many things that could be debated and I think it’s a shame that so many educated young people cannot get the work that they need. 🙂

  3. I personally believe coming to university is about making an adult decision and this derives from personal implication. I therefore find it absolutely indispensable that teachers DON’ T spoon-feed us (as must students seem to be expecting…). University should be an honourable support and learning system rather than a paid service for unconditional success. Lecturers are there to guide us in learning how to learn and what material to be researching. (http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=418217 )

    I disagree with your point about being content with all material being available in books and on the internet. It may be true for some lectures but nothing replaces a person in terms of how well you process the information. Sometimes cases are shared orally within the classroom but will not be available elsewhere. And if you think about it, whether your plan is to become an educational psychologist, a marketing advertiser, a speech therapist, a clinical or forensic practician, you will be dealing with cases and so it is more than simply useful to be aware of them. Furthermore, we have the chance, unlike in other countries, to contribute to the content of the lecture and I believe we should grant that opportunity. They may contain a lot of information but “a picture is worth a thousand words” and as you know visual stimuli plays an important role in explaining things such as visual illusions …and although the internet does contain an awful lot of information, I think there is nothing more reliable than the faulty mind of a human being to explain and demonstrate, live sometimes, how processes function.

    You are right in so far as universities have the obligation to reach standards and expectations and they are accessible to a much broader population than used to be the case. In other words, they have become a business with us as their customers awaiting for satisfaction. And although ideally, I would like to believe that universities are still prestigious and challenging, I can clearly see the picture has evolved into a market-directed situation as described in the following document: http://www.londonmet.ac.uk/library/b45335_3.pdf. Okay, employers will be looking at these skills, but they may well be interested with the passion and enthusiasm you put in your subject and if you are doing research or treating patients then your knowledge on the particular topic should come in very handy!

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  5. A very interesting and relevant topic to chose. More than once I have found myself wondering this too. In the modern age it is a lot easier to become knowledgeable on a topic in ten minutes thanks to the internet. The aquisition of information is far simpler in comparison to as recent as 30-40 years ago. It isn’t unusual to feel hard done by in terms of what and how we learn. Sometimes it feels that information I have had to hunt for myself stays with me much longer than something I hear in a lecture but I am glad that I have supervisors that can tell me if I’m going in the right direction. Without guidance we could go off on tangents that may be irrelevant. University is a place not just about learning in our specific areas, its a place where we learn to live and learn skills away from home to be employable. It is just pretty frustrating that we have to spend so much money and end up in so much debt to better our futures.

  6. Well it seems from the comments here, that the promise of a higher income is a key reason why many of us attend University. Recent figures for this year seem to suggest that despite increasing rates of unemployment, graduates continue to on average earn more than non-graduates[1] The average wage for a graduate is £15.18 compared with £8.92 of non graduates. However are these figure applicable to you and I? There is fair amount of variance in the data, medicine graduates earning £21.29 an hour, and Arts graduates earning 12.06 an hour. So really our wage depends on which subject we choose to study. Research seems to suggest personal factors also play a key role,that men benefit less than females from a degree[3]. Meta-analysis seem to show that youth and education were equally significant as predictors of salary[5] therefore will mature student benefit that greatly from a degree? Lastly it’s important to keep in mind that these figures are largely correlation therefore we cannot be entirely sure it is the degree itself that is causing the increase in wage. Or is it merely that people who attend university share attributes such as above average intelligence that have been linked to increased earnings?[4] The answer to these questions, I sadly do not know, however considering that many of us consider wage a driving factor, it is certainly worth considering whether these estimated figures are personally applicable and ultimately whether our degrees will benefits our wage in the long run?

    [1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2012/mar/06/graduate-employment-low-skill-jobs
    [2] http://www.lovemoney.com/news/money-saving-tips-bargains-and-freebies/student-finance/3981/the-best-and-worstpaying-university-degrees
    [3] http://www.lovemoney.com/news/money-saving-tips-bargains-and-freebies/student-finance/3981/the-best-and-worstpaying-university-degrees
    [4] http://www.iza.org/conference_files/CoNoCoSk2011/gensowski_m6556.pdf

  7. I completely agree that almost all of the information that we find in our lectures could be learnt via another medium such as books or the internet if we wanted to. Naturally it can be said that a degree classification proves that we have learnt the information up to a certain standard (and provides some indication of that standard). However I guess you are arguing that we could take exams to do the same thing and learn from books without actually attending the university (much like home-schooling, or open university exams). However university does provide us with more opportunities to gain hands-on experience (such as POPPS for public speaking) and life-skills that ultimately make us more employable than if we had just gained the information without any need for interaction or cooperation that is part of day-to-day life in university, which I think makes the uni experience invaluable to our eventual employability 🙂

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  9. This was a very thought provoking blog! In terms of popular teaching methods I think it is interesting to look at the massive phenomenon sweeping through Schools and University’s; e-learning. This is essentially an internet-based teaching system available on any computer (which is commonly seen in languages teaching). However, there is much debate as to the quality of the learning and the effectiveness of teaching in such a way. Teachers and Lecturers for example, believe that it is revolutionising learning whereas students would disagree. Infact, Keller and Cernerud (2006) found that University students in Sweden did not regard e-learning as beneficial in any way.

    Keller and Bernerud (2006) = http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1358165020270105

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