Melvin Roest

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Internships are better than a full university education

I'm curious what you think. I noticed a really interesting effect in my current job (but you could see it as an internship).

When I go to university I get lectures together with 100+ students or I get practical sessions with 30+ students. So the teacher to student ratio is 1:30 at best. I read about the effect of 1 on 1 instruction, and the last weeks I have experienced it.

I have experienced 1 on 1 instruction from experts in my field, and I have experienced what it means to figure things out for yourself and only learn what's relevant for you. These are two things that university education lacks in my opinion.

On the side of university education I have noticed that if you do it in the right way, it will broaden your thinking (i.e. do an honours program). Furthermore, you will get subjects that you don't like but will like afterwards, and realize that they were really useful.

Still I do not believe these 2 qualities weigh up against 1 on 1 instruction and learning only things that are relevant to a person (qualities which my job has).

I am curious to know how you see this topic, because I could imagine that I might be lucky in having such a job, or that I'm missing the point with what university education is for.

For reference: I completed a bachelor program, and currently study 2 master programs and another bachelor program, all in The Netherlands. The funny thing with my job, it combines all three things that I'm studying right now (computer science, psychology and games).

Edit @ 24 March:
Initially when I started the conversation I wanted to reply to all your comments, because your replies prove to be a valuable learning experience. And I did read all the comments, but I am having a beginning form of RSI (especially with typing, not with using the mouse). So I did not type for the past few days. So I am quite limited in replying.

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    Mar 19 2014: "THREE factors distinguish top international universities from their competitors. The FIRST: a high concentration of talented teachers, researchers and students.

    In most cases, world-class universities recruit students and faculty without concern for national borders. This enables them to focus on attracting the most talented people, no matter where they come from, and open themselves to new ideas and approaches.

    Harvard, for instance, has a student population that is 19% international; Stanford, 21%; Columbia, 23%. At the University of Cambridge, 18% of the students are from outside the European Union. The U.S. universities ranked at the top of these global surveys also hire significant numbers of foreign academics. Caltech, for example, has 37%.

    The SECOND factor that sets apart top universities are their sizable budgets. Elite institutions have several sources of funding: government money for operational spending and research, contract research from public organizations and private firms, and earnings from endowments, gifts and tuition fees.

    The U.S. and, to a lesser extent, Japan boast thriving private research universities. American universities top the list both because they have large endowments, which cover immediate costs and allow the schools to focus on medium- and long-term institutional priorities, and because their faculty are awarded lots of government research funding. Per student, the richest private universities in the U.S. receive more than $40,000 in endowment income every year, compared with a mere $1,000-per-student at top Canadian universities.

    The THIRD factor of success is a combination of freedom, autonomy and leadership. World-class universities thrive in an environment that fosters competitiveness, unrestrained scientific inquiry, critical thinking, innovation and creativity. Institutions that have complete autonomy are also more agile ...
    http://www.forbes.com/2009/08/10/world-class-best-university-ranking-world-bank-opinions-coll
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      Mar 20 2014: The three factors for becoming a top university:
      1. A lot of international student (around 20 percent or higher).
      2. Having a lot of money to spend on research and your students.
      3. critical thinking, innovation and creativity are fostered and they have less bureaucracy.

      I couldn't reach the site via the link so I googled "world-class-best-university-ranking-world-bank-opinions-coll" and then it was the first hit (for future readers).

      Awesome article, thanks! :)
  • Mar 25 2014: I think you are comparing 2 different things - internship or coops are for students to get intense training in a specific area of an industry, for example one coop I had I gave him the responsibility to design the decimal divide hw for a new computer. I wanted to see how he would approach the problem and the solution. College should give you the skills, ability, and critical thinking to address specific and general problems.
  • Mar 23 2014: When you buy any complex electronic gadget then it comes with a manual.By reading the manual you get an insight into how the device should be operated and what preventive measures should be taken.

    But, your real learning on how to operate the device will start when you will actually start operating it . You may have memorized line by line of the manual in short span of time , but your real learning starts when you practice.

    So, whether its school,university these all makes us to educate us by studying the manual of life , the manual of profession, the manual of technical things. But our real learning takes place when we do them in real time not just mock practice.

    I remember that there was one topic on semaphores in the computer science , but it seemed very boring to me because I thought that this is not important . So, I didn't studied them . When faced with a situation to use semaphores, I learned that I was using the them without being aware of that I was using them. And when I consulted the book, I was surprised that I was using exactly the same way as it was discussed.

    So, when faced with practical situations, we often devise methods and algorithms which we have ignored or which we have never studied , but the situation makes it possible to find practical workable solutions on its own.

    As far as psychology is concerned , then psychology is must for everyone in which ever field a person is. Because it prepares you in human engineering.Especially in computer science, psychology is must to understand the psychology of the user,psychology of the client.

    And the one thing a person has to constantly deal with is , the EGO of the person. Whether it is the EGO of employee or EGO of the user,EGO of the client,EGO of the Decision maker.

    Dealing with the EGO is the most difficult thing when you have to make a single sale , you have to deal with three customers. 1. The user, 2.Decision Maker,3 One who will sign Check.
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      Mar 25 2014: Haha the computer science story is really recognizable! Thanks for making that explicit. And I agree with you on the psychology part :)
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    Mar 21 2014: This is a very live issue in England, now that Higher Education costs £9,000 per year.

    If a person has an academic nature, or a vocation for a profession, then going to Uni will do them good. We need thinkers in this world and I'd certainly want my GP to be trained in medicine and not media studies!

    However, for most young people with no special vocation in mind, who wish (or need) to go further in education, I think a mixture of learning in an educational environment, together with practical projects in work environments (with a mentor) would improve their ability to cope with the world of work. Many degrees have placement years which I approve of greatly. The students come back with a grown up attitude and are more focused on their studies.

    Although most Universities have intakes of all ages now, I believe it's good for young students to experience mixing with older workers who have discipline, experience and good work ethics. Today, some young people don't emerge into the work market until they're 22 years old - far too late in my opinion. They have spent their whole life mixing with their own age cohort and by 22 are pretty much fixed with the attitude of a post adolescent. One such member of my team (some years ago now) was unable to get to work on time, and needed constant reassurance via appraisal - like she was still in education and being assessed. She was hooked on being graded and rewarded. I resorted to bringing in sweets - like gold stars. It was very wearing to manage her.

    Many companies actually like taking on young people at 18 years old, because at that age they can still be moulded and developed. They add energy to the work environment, and gain discipline and a work ethic from mixing with older workers.

    For too long higher education had been used as a parking place for young people. We need a variety of high quality pathways for post 18 year olds.
    • Mar 21 2014: Great points about the age and culture

      I agree with absolute everything you say

      But about the reassurance and appraisal, i know that there is another side of the coin too

      I agree that someone should work well without reassurance or appraisal

      but if you manage resources (in this case human resource) we have to know how to take the best out of each resource
      There is even a Sun tzu "Art of War" remark that says so

      We have, over the time, been changing the common enterprise thinking
      and incorporating things like tools that is easyer to use
      and creating a environment focused on them, maximizing their characteristic behaviours
      where new values of the new age (like social, open-source) are being allowed to happen
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        Mar 23 2014: Quite right about learning how to get the best from staff, that''s why I used to deal out treats. However, I do feel the education system had a role in helping young people to be more resilient and confident.
    • Mar 22 2014: I think for people between fifteen to eighteen,if they can get chance to work in society,it is very helful for what they are learning,of courese,for legal working age eighteen,that's good to form their work ethic from good model,but meanwhile easily learn bad from around.
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    Mar 20 2014: My experience of internships and university study is similar to you Melvin. However, I do not think one would be nearly as useful to the student without the other. Internships are what made me highly employable after graduation, but without my course work I would not have known about my field of study let alone had the opportunity to seek work.
    Consider the many degree fields and professional licenses that require x-number of hours completed in the field prior to graduation or sitting for exams. This shows that universities understand not everything is appropriate to lecture/lab set-up.
    Time spent at college does accomplish much more than hours in a library and exam scores; Maturity, ability to take instruction, teamwork, prioritizing, and dedication to name a few. I have often herd the saying that, getting a bachelors degree simply proves you can follow directions. I find truth in that statement, and maybe the reverse side to it is that internship simply proves that you can be productive.
  • Mar 24 2014: as a community-college-equivalent teacher who also spent 7 years at university - my general idea is uni teaches theory which can carry you across different environments over years to come because you understand the concepts - while technical college teaches practical job skills you can put to work in a specific environment immediately.

    That said - I'm now explaining database normalisation in simple ways that I never quite understood at university - and see my students doing it effectively in practical exercises straight away - so I'm happy with that.
  • Mar 19 2014: Internship can be good to teach you the skills that you need to do a job, and some general skills that can apply to multiple jobs.

    However, college is designed to teach you stuff that will prepare you for life both in and out of work. As a CompSci major, I had to take classes on foreign languages, world history, environmentalism, critical thinking, biology, physics, art, philosophy, etc. Stuff I never would have gotten from an internship.

    I think university has its place as setting the foundation for a professional life, while internships prepare you for specific job.
    • Mar 19 2014: I think that the most fundamental diference is about the community they serve and the type of learning you get

      University serves academic community, so they have constrains on content that have to follow what is acepted by some institution for instance.

      Bussiness pratical training is very focused in result in the given environment with the given tools because they feel the market presures and incentives for get better and fast results

      Universitys teach better concepts and abstractions, that make you trully understand the subject and what it means
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      Mar 20 2014: So if I understand it correctly, you had 2 years of obligatory courses in computer science and 2 years of courses that you could choose in every way you saw fit?

      My bachelor program had no electives. We did have a few elective choices from constrained lists, but it didn't feel like a normal elective, since we could only pick from 4 subjects every time. In The Netherlands it is normally a bit less restrictive though. Usually 20 percent of the education consists of electives, the other 80 percent is obligatory (when it comes to bachelor programs). We have less of a structure when it comes to master programs.

      But the obligatory programs solely focus on the discipline of study. I'm curious to what extent you believe that your argument would still hold when you consider a system that I am describing.
      • Mar 20 2014: Not in any way I saw fit. In the way the developers of credentials, certifications and curriculum developers see as necessary to make me a well-rounded professional.

        On my own, I may not have chosen foreign language. However, once I took it, I discovered I learned a lot about my own language, and I have found my bits of Spanish very helpful over the years.

        I was given a choice of which foreign language I desired to study, which art class I wanted to take, which science classes, which philosophy... There were very, very few wide open elective credits.

        And I am glad I was required to sample a little bit from each subject area. I found I was able to get as much out of each subject as the effort I was interested in putting in.
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    Mar 19 2014: Though I think the answer to this question depends greatly upon the field that one's looking to go into; I agree that internships and actual jobs are more existentially and practically beneficial in the general sense. Not only are practical jobs more specifically applicable, but I also find that college classes strongly require you to evaluate and cater to the teacher's method of understanding, rather than your own. Consequentially, students end up being tested on how well they understand the teacher's interpretation of material as opposed to the actual material itself.

    Furthermore, the maturation process of critical thinking is only beneficial in college for those who don't make it a passive practice on their own. Different people have different kinds and levels of maturation in critical thinking. I do not believe that college education makes independent learners, it makes them standardized learners. A student is, quite directly, learning to think the exact same way as the teacher and the rest of the class. They become one of many standardized students and lose their individual way of thinking as they're forced to take their teacher's perspective on different issues. Interestingly, I believe this specifically applies to honors programs. These programs get people thinking, but not in any original manner. For those who've taken an honors class, and I have, I would encourage them to notice how by the end of the chapter/ section everyone in the class has a very similarly-themed conclusion, if they don't, then the teacher often corrects their flawed logic, while in actuality it's just different logic that the teacher is often unwilling to entertain in a truly thought-provoking discussion. Much of these actions are caused by the mandate of following a curriculum. Now, in terms of an internship, a person is often encouraged to understand concepts however they see fit so long as they can do the job. Diverse ideas are often encouraged as they provide unique solutions.
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      Mar 20 2014: I find this an interesting stance against universities, because you address the whole point about that university should be able to teach you critical thinking. In a large part I agree with you. Although it is also my experience that my critical thinking improved a lot (after all the work that I did myself). Most of the times this happens outside the classrooms though (I speak with professors then as well), but this year I decided to take it inside the classroom. It's interesting to see when you start openly question the teacher at a lot of steps that he makes. Suddenly boring teachers become interesting, because they have to rely on their knowledge and not their powerpoint slides.

      With regards to the honours program. I only followed 1 course which took 4 months. There were no teachers, only guest speakers. There were 2 people coordinating the subject which could been seen as teachers, except they were not teaching. They felt more like coaches and peers to me. But I guess that I didn't take a normal honours course to begin with :P

      But then again as you state in your comment, it is a really good question to ask oneself: to what extent do I learn critical thinking? Couldn't I learn this better (or quicker) in another place? To what extent does a one on one mapping occur between the interpretation of the teacher's knowledge and my knowledge, are there any thinking skills really trained here instead of some interpreted and informed opinion?
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        Mar 20 2014: I would whole-heartedly agree that critical thinking can be gained tremendously outside of the classroom when talking with teachers. I do think that a lot can be gained from teachers, depending on the teacher, but it is outside of the formal structure of the university, which is the classroom. The same one-on-one experience is available in an internship and an internship or job allows you to immediately turn around and apply that information. Knowledge gained in this manner is more heavily filed away in the long-term memory and misconceptions are cleared up in the application.

        I obviously don't know where you went to college, but the structure of a lot of universities, depending on the class, doesn't sponsor further inquiry when you're interested in a tangent topic. They'll most often be happy to talk to you about it, but not for long in class as they have to get back to what they'll be testing you on. The duration to which you're allowed to talk about something off topic inside of class doesn't really allow for more than superficial covering of the topic/tangent. If pursued with the teacher outside of class to a critical-thining degree, it takes out a lot of time out of their day and your own. Many students have massively busy schedules and are unable to pursue topics within a class outside of what they'll be tested on.

        I can think of ways that many of my mentioned problems may be worked around, but the structure of the university is not what normally helps you to do that. It would take real independent study, an internship, or a more open dialogue of some kind. Aside from extremely low student-faculty ratios, a critical-thinking dialogue is extremely hard to obtain during class, unless the student hasn't thought of the topic before.

        An important factor to mention might be that I'm in the United States, and I can't say that I'm familiar with the education system in the Netherlands. A class with only guest speakers, depending upon how you're graded, sounds great.
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    Mar 19 2014: Internships are certainly better in preparing you for your future jobs than Universities at the moment, except if the job is academic in nature. But I think the two are a sort of check and balance in the science and technology fronts. Some people would certainly find it absurd to entrust the education of their children to businesses, who they trust the least, followed by government, according to a study.
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      Mar 20 2014: Good point, entrusting education to businesses could be perceived as really concerning. Interestingly enough, I saw this approach in Germany. For example, I saw companies having cmoputer science programs that were equivalent to a full (German) university education.

      I was once in Germany at a fair to promote my Dutch university, that's how found out. So I only saw it there, and don't know much about it.
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        Mar 20 2014: It's certainly not a bad business design, and when we get down to it, education IS a form of business. We just need a quality control check system and it should be a better alternative to traditional schooling.
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    Mar 19 2014: University education gives one the opportunities to explore possibilities. The four, five, or eight years of lectures, research, and collaboration at the university are critical in the learning and maturation process. When one starts university or college education, he/she is around 18 years old - still "young". The four, or five, or even eight years at the university will make one a more independent learner and critical thinker. After graduation from college, one is more informed, more experienced, more mature, and more wise in so many ways.

    Internships are not replacement for college education, rather they are continuation and integral part of the higher education process. Internships make the theories and concepts one learns in the classroom more real. If nothing else, a college diploma is a requirement for many entry-level professional positions.

    One-on-one instruction is the best, if one is lucky to get access to a more mature, more experienced, and more knowledgeable professional or mentor.

    "This is the education of one of history's greatest generals, Alexander the Great:
    Alexander's parents were Philip II of Macedonia and the Albanian princess, Olympias ... who gave Alexander two tutors, Lysimachus and Leonidas, Leonidas being his favorite. Later when Alexander was 13, his Father gave him the philosopher Aristotle as a tutor. When Alexander conquered more and more countries he learned foriegn customs in order to rule his millions of subjects."
    http://alexanderthegreatbiography.weebly.com/his-young-life-family-and-education.html

    Having been tutored one-on-one by the greatest thinker and teacher of his time, is it any wonder why Alexander became one of the greatest generals and conquerors of all time?
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      Mar 20 2014: Awesome story!! And you're right about the entry requirements.

      Still I'm wondering. You implicitly (un)intentionally (?) state that theory goes first, and practice comes second. Does it need to be this way?

      I could imagine that it may be more useful that theory and practice should occur more side by side, instead of one after the other.
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        Mar 20 2014: Hope this helps:

        Where do great theories come from?

        "If you are interested in this question, consider reading Great Minds in Management: The Process of Theory Development (Oxford University Press). In this edited book volume, a set of top minds were asked to talk about the origins of the theories that are attributed to them. So there is a chapter by Albert Bandura on Social Cognitive Theory, a chapter by Barry Staw on the escalation of commitment, a chapter by Jay Barney on the origins of the resource-based view, Karl Weick talks about sensemaking, Ed Freeman on stakeholder theory, Dick Scott on institutional theory, Oliver Williamson on transaction cost economics, Sid Winter talks about evolutionary economics, Jeff Pfeffer about resource-dependence, etc, etc."

        http://orgtheory.wordpress.com/2011/09/20/where-do-great-theories-come-from/
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    Mar 19 2014: Hello Melvin. I've been in three different universities - I can only say that a university does not teach you any profession but gives you a diploma showing that you're a professional, while you're not, yet. That is great that you have a job right now that is combining something that interests you. I started learning only when was left with all new to me responsibilities to handle that really busy business... no school can teach for real but a Real demanding situation and crisis at work !! You learn only when you have to make your own decisions and lead that business doing almost everything by yourself from the bottom to the top... you face those (never mentioned in schools) surprises all the time.
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      Mar 20 2014: Crisises do not occur at universities. Good point, I think that is needed in order for students to learn safely. But it can also be a drawback, since such skills are needed in the 'real world'.

      How would you perceive the following situation: you have a course that takes 3 weeks to learn, and you know this. You only have 2 weeks left (and didn't learn anything beforehand). If you don't pass this course you will be delayed for a year. How is that not a crisis? ;)
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        Mar 20 2014: I guess, they imitate some sort of crisis to tast the students under artificial pressure - though it is artificial, does not make much sense... it is Not crisis.

        Well, but when we face some real challenge at work for which we are responsible we cannot help but force ourselves to solve the real problem as quickly as possible, or we Pay for our laziness , sometimes dearly. I never took artificial pressure seriously in schools..though it might be a good exercise :)

        "I think that (universities have no crisis) is needed in order for students to learn safely." Yes, but probably they more care for the "safely" of professors and administration.

        In any case no matter where you study the real experience comes only when you begin to get involved in your real business, making your own real mistakes and trying to fix them.
  • Mar 24 2014: I took an "education-internship-career" path which is completely opposite to most people have taken. I quit school at age of 14 and worked first as a trainee bookkeeper and then as an accountant in a paper manufacturing firm.. At the time I learned a lot about business and accounting by listening to the colleagues and supervisors, but also read a lot of books (=manuals) to serve my knowledge/education for that purpose. Later on, I grow up to enjoy the technical aspect of paper manufacturing. The management graciously permitted me to switch to the factory location and beginning as an "intern". I did my job well and soon was promoted as a formal technician. I did as always by studying chemistry, physics and some mechanical engineering along the way in my spare time. I also developed a particular interest in industrial quality control by "studying" many manuals on paper-making processes. I was designated as the quality control officer on the banknotes paper which was contracted by the government to the paper mill where I worked.
    I also want to point out that my life journey is not simply a self-made good career without formal education. After my other professional work experience, I decided to have some higher education in different fields. I skipped all the formal education from the 8th grade in the middle school, the high school and the college undergraduate and applied and accepted as a special (provisional) student in a college of business administration in the U. S. After two "quarters" in the provisional status, I was admitted to the Department of mathematical statistics working for a Master of Liberal Arts degree. Then I switched to work for a PhD in the school of public health. I finally completed both degrees in 6 years.
    Let me just add one relevant comment: My course work and thesis research were helped a lot by my past professional knowledge and experience too.
    In summary, I value the benefit of internship/trainee-ship as much as the formal education.
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      Mar 25 2014: Since you took such a practical route I am curious to know: why did you go back to school? The first paragraph of your story gives the impression that you did not need it, since you were learning things on your own already.
      • Mar 25 2014: I am glad to tell you more about my life story.
        First, I quit school at age 14 was not because I couldn't "hack it" in the school. As a matter of fact I was always ranked in the top in class during my primary school years, and was elected as class leader during my elementary educ. Then I was admitted to the top middle school in Shanghai, China under fierce competition. But I was compelled to quit school because of the financial problem in my family, that I had to earn some money for myself, but also had to partially support my mother, my grandmother and two younger siblings. I love to study either in school or on my own, that I didn't need additional motivation from being curious in my job requirement. But, of course, it was easier for me to learn with the "live laboratory" I was placed in.
        Then when the Chinese communist army came to Shanghai, I fled from the city and my job and went to Taiwan. I found a job as an accountant in an insurance company, and did very well indeed. In certain sense, I really had no compelling reason to go back to school. However, there are two important drives for me to "change of my mind"; 1. When I first went to Taiwan, I tried to apply to the government managed Taiwan Paper Manufacturing Company as a technician, my application was rejected even with a good recommendation from one of my colleagues who was my good friend and colleague in the paper factory where we worked alongside with each other. I could guess that the main reason of the rejection was because I didn't have the academic credentials as my friend had. 2. I probably already had the strength of equivalent to a bachelors degree for the job as a technician in a paper mill, but nobody would believe me anyway. Also, one couldn't apply to the graduate school in any university there without any credentials So I had to go through 3 qualifying official examinations for certification (they are still not admissible by the colleges there) and came to the U. S. to accomplish it.
  • Mar 23 2014: Current education system is outdated and expensive beyond reason. Over last 50 years these elite graduates decimated American manufacturing destroyed Peter Druckers advise that Corpoirtion must meet the asoirations of society to be justified. These people substracted society and them employees from their aspirations. That is miss education by these elite societies.

    Secondly, the initaitor is correct in saying that most universities do not educate. At eleite student are elite and some drop ours from them even have succeeded big way. So what is that role? Their role is trhey give some experience in a collective setting at the right age at right time to that part of population. This helps us manage our society. Some substance and lots of appearances and then ego takes over and it helps society.

    IN the internet age, I will like to guided self education is right way to go. Here there is more a qualified conseloor of the field who will guide individually and collectively in the subject area where student will solve potential solutions. Trumps you are fired is one but not necessariky well formated example of it. IN this scenerio qulified Professor /counsellor will travel to different location for group project and indivdual guidance. Once I suggested a specialist can go an up and down Rocky mountain region to several univeristies to teach muliple group of sutdents. Now with internet one can do lot more at lower cost.

    If we are going to educate massively we have to use some approach like above at lower cost to meet our own needs for running our industries and society. We have several hudnred times more students that cannot go to ivey schools and they can be trained as well.

    Then in many fields we can have internmediate education. For example there can be grade between doctor and nurses than can substantially take care of huge needs of chronic, non emergency needs at much lower cost.
  • Mar 21 2014: Tell that to a hiring officer.
    Be shown the door.
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    Mar 21 2014: Melvin, One of the things we learn from the PISA exams is what works well in which environments. The really successful schools use some form of practicum. They go to school and then into the real world for application daily. That would seem to suggest that both are necessary ingrediants to success.

    Can you be successful without one or the other or even wothout both ... yeah it happens ... I would advise against it though.

    So instead of having to opt for one or the other ... let us accept that one completments the other.

    Be well. Bob.
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      Mar 25 2014: Interesting story, but I partially also debated internships as better because it is easier to receive a 1 on 1 education with an expert. But now when I think about it, some of the really bright students in my studies have the same effect on me.
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    Mar 20 2014: Internships are great for detailed and relevant learning; universities are almost inevitable for the relationships that is nutured in an academic environment.
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    Mar 19 2014: Others below have noted that colleges are different and internships are different. Even in reference to your exposition above, some universities have much larger classes than others and different offerings of one-on-one attention. Universities are better able, typically, than internships to cultivate critical thinking, to bring exposure to a range of subject matter taught by experts, and to give you regular experience engaging with the thinking styles of experts in different disciplines. At some universities you will hear the thinking of the most insightful people in their fields in the world and also have the opportunity to question them and work under them in a research capacity.

    Many people move from universities to internships or jobs and there gain specific practical skills, some tailored to the job at hand and some more general. Going to a university does not deprive you of your experience at your first job, but not going to university deprives you of the education uniquely available there. So going to university first gives you both while skipping university gives you only the one experience.

    There is a difference too between learning at university while also reading on your own and only reading on your own. Most would recognize that you will likely learn to play violin or harp better with coaching by a musician on your technique and other aspects of performance than if you were simply to pick it up and monkey around with it. In my experience the university is well suited to cultivate a rigor of approach to subject matter, including challenging the way you might think of wandering through text or data and stringing it together. Often people who read and string thoughts together in a field without honestly acquiring the discipline of that field are swamped by confirmation bias. This is also more likely, I think, when you learn by working only with one person who sees things a certain way.
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      Mar 20 2014: Some interesting thoughts on the drawbacks of one on one education. Group think and/or confirmaton bias are definitely a danger in one on one educaion.

      You stated something that I should ask myself more: "not going to the university deprives you of the education uniquely available there." I am asking myself: what is uniquely available there? In a nutshell you say that critical thinking is a unique skill to learn at universities (and some related skills). Critical thinking protects a person against confirmation bias (or at least some of it).

      Considering this whole MOOC trend as well, I believe that universities and MOOCs differ on these two things. Where MOOCs could instruct a person on critical thinking, an education in real life could probably give better feedback on one's critical thinking.
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        Mar 20 2014: In my opinion, the lack of meaningful interactivity along a critical thinking dimension is a great drawback of the MOOCs compared to a university education. Whereas attendance at university involves challenging exchanges about concepts and ideas, the interactive component of MOOCs is a combination, typically of multiple choice questions spitting back facts from lecture to make sure you are listening and exchange on a discussion board or peer evaluation, the quality of which is highly variable. You have to wade through a lot much of the time to find something valuable.

        There may be some courses that are exceptions.

        I love the MOOCs for the free educational offerings they provide but I don't think they compare to what a university can provide on an interactive dimension.

        I also love one-on-one education as one component of an education, though the value depends greatly on who that one is. It is kind of like how some homeschooled people get very well educated and others very poorly educated.

        One can learn critical thinking outside of universities and certainly it ought to be cultivated from children's earliest days. Quality schooling through university is focused on that endeavor, but students also need to do their part.
  • Mar 19 2014: I agree. My undergraduate course was 4 years, yet dissecting the stuff which was important to learn from that which was not it could have been completed in 1 year or in 6 months if it were an internship. University is just a very profitable cattle market. Even after the 4 years I did not feel equipped for a job, because I din't feel I had learnt the important stuff in as much depth as what would be expected even in my first job.

    Additionally, I feel I completed better projects at high school than what I did at university.
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      Mar 20 2014: I'm curious what you studied. I experienced the same thing with business administration. Also to a large extent in psychology and game studies. But I did not experience this in computer science (half of the courses were interesting and relevant at the very least but it probably comes closer to 80 percent).

      Psychology gives a good skill in a certain type of report writing, statistical analysis and critical thinking to psychological claims. But the critical thinking is not that much, just read the criticism on wikipedia on psychology and you won't need to do a 3 year education for that part.

      Game studies gave me some interesting insights which were all over the place: creativity, interdisciplinarity, transferable skills (i.e. game design = marketing skills = psychology of motivation). Definitely experiences that I needed, it could have been delivered in a more effective way though.
      • Mar 20 2014: My undergraduate degree was in Product Design Engineering. But similar to your game design studies, the course could have been delivered in a more effective way. My course was stuffed with single subjects which I felt were unrelated to decent learning outcomes, we were never allowed in the workshops to prototype stuff (at least at high school you got to build what you designed). The only effective part of the course was learning computer aided design (cad), but because the course was stuffed with other subjects, not enough time was spent on that to feel completely competent. However, like you say, my report writing skills/english literature skills were pretty good by the end of the course.

        Funny enough, I know a person who studied computer science and has a really good job. She believed the courses she studied progressed her in the right direction.
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          Mar 25 2014: In the case of computer science I definitely agree :) For me, good computer science classes have a good practical side to their topic, or a really good justification why they don't, at least not in the hyper-direct way that programming has (e.g.. theoretical computer science).
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    Mar 19 2014: yeah, i reckon universities are passe.

    universities are a very out of date concept. i'm not sure why the professions themselves don't take over the education process for their own backyards.

    i trained as a teacher and, although i enjoyed some of the papers i took, i didn't learn anything practical until i was in the job.
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      Mar 20 2014: Since you believe universities are passe, what would you believe to be 'good' education?
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        Mar 22 2014: practical experience. life.

        i guess for some people, having a requirement to turn up at a certain time or a requirement to hand in an assignment on time is helpful.

        i'm not suggesting that there isn't a need for preparation and, in some professions, a basic level of competence and knowledge but that's where the apprentice/intern/dogsbody has a place.