October 23

The Daily English Podcast #2 – Is it Really Necessary to Get a University Degree?


David: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of our podcast. I am joined by Chris and today we are going to be speaking about whether or not it is necessary to get a university or college degree. This is something that I have spoken about a lot and I thought it would be an interesting topic for our discussion today.

Something that I have been thinking about before we started recording today is what kinds of jobs require a university degree. There are some jobs out there, for example if you wanted to be an actor, if you wanted to work on the radio or if you wanted to do a number of different jobs that don't require a university degree. However, I do believe that there are some jobs that absolutely do require one.

For example, if you want to be a doctor or an architect or perhaps if you want to do anything that involves a lot of risk or that possibly makes you responsible for people's lives, these are jobs that absolutely require a university degree. But where things become a little bit unclear are for other types of jobs that you can you can learn as you go. For example, if you wanted to work in something like marketing; helping companies or individuals sell products and services than perhaps a university degree is maybe not so necessary. It’s a bit difficult to talk about this because initially I thought perhaps jobs that require a lot of responsibility should require university degrees, however if you worked in something like marketing perhaps you would have a lot of responsibility and so it's not so clear as to how we can decide or define how important the job is or not, how much responsibility should be required in order to have a degree. Chris, what you think about this. Do you have anything to add?

Chris: I think you raised a lot of different points there. As you were talking I was thinking about the kind of jobs that require a university degree and to me they're probably the more, what I would call traditional jobs, like working for the government, being a civil servant, normally that would require a university degree. Or, if you wanted to be for example a doctor or a vet or somebody who works in the media often you would require a university degree or even some the top companies in your country may require university degrees. These are what you could call the more traditional kind of jobs.

But then there are a lot of jobs which I would say are not really well covered by the kind of education that you get in some of the more popular universities, especially in the UK where we're from. Let's say, I mean, you mentioned marketing. I think that there are a lot of degrees that teach people marketing, this is just an example, but at the same time you could have – let’s say for example that a university degree lasts three years or four years. During that time you could have got three years of experience in the sector that you want to work in. Let's say you got three years of experience in marketing and that may actually stand you in better stead than just having a degree in the subject without any real experience. Does that make sense to you David?

David: Yeah it makes absolute sense. I think the next thing that I would probably want to discuss is the alternative paths that somebody can take if they choose not to go to university. You mention that in those three years somebody could get three years of experience. I think that in many disciplines and it's more valuable having experience under your belt instead of a degree, because in many industries things change really fast and actually many people leave university with skills that are out of date. A lot of companies have to retrain these new members of staff that they are paying good money for and so I think this is a fair point. It means that I think we have to reconsider the education system that is based on tradition and the way that things go.

Obviously, with things like the Internet and technology, there are alternative ways of becoming educated. I think that we need to reconsider the requirements for certain jobs. But at the same time I don't think that this means that traditional education has the completely wrong idea, because I think that formal study is important and it is something that teaches valuable skills and valuable principles and helps people develop certain habits that are important when working in the real world, but, as I said with new technology and new ways of educating ourselves, things definitely need to be reconsidered.

An alternative path and one that I think that is great is to work side-by-side with someone who has experience. At the same time, you can do some sort of study that involves reading of books doing some activities and working under the supervision of this person to implement what you have been taught. This definitely depends on the industry and I think that it's difficult to talk about alternative parts for education because usually we generalise. I think that each profession needs to have a different approach and have different standards and different ways of educating people. I think that the conversation is difficult to have when we talk about education as a whole instead of talking about specific professions. What do you think, Chris?

Chris: Absolutely. I think, as you said, it's difficult to generalise and it really depends on the kind of job or the kind of career that you want to go into. I think maybe the best thing to do is to do some research about the career that you are interested in and look at the paths of people who have done that career before. The people who do the job you want to do, are they normally university graduates? Have they normally got one degree or two degrees or no degrees?

I think it's different in every different job or industry. Another thing that I think is important is that some people might identify people who don't go to university as dropouts. We hear words like ‘school dropout’ or ‘high school dropout’ or even ‘university dropouts’: people who have dropped out of the education system. But, in some situations and in some jobs if you're simply just going straight into the path that you want to take or the career that you want to take then that's not really dropping out at all. Do you get what I'm saying?

David: No, absolutely. I think that it's easy for us to forget that once upon a time, a long time ago the way that most people if not all people were educated was through what we would call an apprenticeship. They would actually not go to a university but they would work alongside someone and get trained in this way. Why don’t we have a term for people who dropped out of that approach?

But I guess what I’m really trying to say here is that in recent years it has become negative to drop out of university but we should remember that once upon a time it was normal to learn a trade in what we now call the alternative path.

Chris: Absolutely. I think that in certain jobs in certain professions doing an apprenticeship can be really helpful.

We’ve been talking about some alternative parts but you have to recognise that there are some things at university that you learn perhaps even outside the subject that you're studying. Let's say that you're studying history, but that wouldn't be everything that you're learning. You’d probably also be learning some communication skills: how to communicate with other people effectively, and even some debating skills and skills of persuasion which could also be useful in in a job, let's say a sales job or in other careers as well.

David: Absolutely. I think with the example that you just gave, I think one of the most important skills that you learn with a history degree is how to do research and how to gather information together and come to conclusions. This is something that is extremely helpful in a lot of jobs out there.

I think that, moving on a little bit, something that a lot of people worry about when going to university is whether or not they will get return on their investment because going to university is very expensive. It even means paying a lot of money upfront or taking out some sort of loan that usually takes most of your life to pay off, so the big question is: going to university does it give us a return on our investment?

This is a very general question, Chris, but what would you say about that?

Chris: I think it's a very difficult question to answer, first of all, but I think it depends on what you're studying. If you're studying something which you could learn just as easily on a job, let’s say something practical like business studies or marketing or media studies, I’m just naming some different subjects here. There could be many others that you could learn while on a job. If you're leading something like that then maybe, just maybe, you could be working and learning the skills. But, if you're learning something much more academic, we could say, like I just mentioned history, or some other degrees that might give you extra skills at the same time which you couldn't learn from just doing a job, then maybe that would give you more that you could put into a career. I mean, it's difficult to say, I think.

David: I think that one of the things that is causing problems or the confusion today is that once upon a time, a long time ago, the purpose of university was to prepare people for specific jobs but over the years the university system, I believe, has become more of a business and so there are courses offered in in all sorts of things that don't necessarily have a clear path to employment.

I have a friend of mine and he always makes the point that he found a university course in a university prospectus in basket weaving. I can’t remember which university it was, but the point is that there is a university degree available for absolutely anything and everything. If a university can get students to sign up for course they will provide the course. I’m not sure if this in the best interest of students because I think that most people, if not all people, go to university with the hope of being able to get a job afterwards, but in recent years we are seeing that graduates are finding it more and more difficult to get employment. I think part of that is because universities are offering courses in things that don't have a clear path to employment.

Chris: I don't know if the example you mentioned is is real or not. It sounds crazy to me, but i think you've definitely got to look at what you're getting out of the course and, you know, what the content of the course is and who is going to be teaching you and think about whether you can get value for money now. I don't think you should choose a university course just on maybe what you think you will get out of it but actually think about the content and whether it’s really going to be useful to you in the future. I think people have to think much more carefully now that university is getting much more expensive and there are other options out there.

David: I think that it’s also important to touch on the topic of passion and following your dreams, because there is a is a culture where we are told to follow our dreams, follow our passions, don't worry too much about money and I think this also causes a lot of confusion, because people or young people often at the age 18 or in their early 20s are choosing topics just because they are feel good or it is something they like doing. But, at least in my opinion, what you like and what you're passionate about are not necessarily the best options for your career path. So, let's say you are passionate about, I don't know, tap dancing. Yeah the are people out there I'm sure that make a living out of tap dancing, but very very few. I think it's important to think about your career prospects when choosing what you study at university.

Chris: Absolutely. I should just say here that David and I are not trying to give you career advice about your career or your situation. We’re not trying to tell you to go to university or don't go, or do something else. It really depends on your own situation, I think. I think for some people, going down a more traditional path will be more stable or, you know, they'll be more comfortable doing something like that, and for some people it just wouldn't work out, so I think you have to look at your own situation, right?

David: Absolutely, and so I think that so we've spoken quite a bit today about whether or not you should go to university to get a degree and I think that the conclusion that we've had today is that it really depends and that you should definitely think about the situation carefully and do a lot of research and consider what implications your decision will have in the future.

Chris: Yeah I completely agree with you.

David: Thanks, Chris, and I look forward to speaking to you again soon.

Chris: Yeah. Thanks, David. This has been a really interesting conversation and let's get together and have another one soon.

David: We will do. Bye! Chris: Bye-bye.

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