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Sharon Turner

EAP Teacher (English for Academic Purposes), Sabanci University

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What is the value of gaining a higher education?

I was reading an article today in the Guardian about the consequences of higher education. The writer's premise was that if graduates could not be guaranteed entry to the job market, higher education was meaningless. Does higher education have value beyond economic/ business needs?

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    Sep 1 2011: You learn something... you get educated... you're understanding (of certain things) increases...

    Is that not valuable?
    (Which does not mean you cannot gain that value trough other means as well)
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    Sep 1 2011: You might be talking about certification. It's a misnomer to call the current "Certification System' as education system. The success of this system is defintely bound with business / economic needs , while education not.

    For education one defintely doesn't need to go through any so called system.

    From where people like Socretes, Plato, Pythagorus etc etc got certified ?
    Were not they educated ?
    Were they educated enough to be called higher educated?
    Did their education added any value to mankind?
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      Sep 3 2011: Yes, I know many people who are extremely educated but not certified. It is a shame that we need to jump hoops to be considered educated. Great questions Salim.)
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        Sep 7 2011: Thanks Sharon for your compliments.
        Are we not all getting here educated as well through exchange of our thoughts as you opened this discussion ?
        To me eduction is day to day learning process and it's not specific to any subject, while current certification system is opposite to that.
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          Sep 7 2011: I was told government funded education exists because groups of people creating products and services need skilled workers to create and invent new for society demands.

          The transparency that the government forms this bridge between generations is diffuse at the moment. It is education because of the sake of education, too little learnings have implicit or explicit value for a community.

          I believe we need to rethink all together what education is useful for you and us, has meaning and value for 21th century communities.
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    Aug 31 2011: Experience beats academic qualification (with regard to jobs).

    A lot of tertiary qualifications are rubbish, a lot a good.

    For me, it's more about intellectual satisfaction. If you are driven by interest rather than 'future job prospects' then I think higher education is very valuable.
    • Sep 3 2011: yes ,interest is a good father of studying !Then u 'll find it's valuable!
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      Sep 3 2011: Hi Scott and Olina,

      Thanks for stopping by. Yes I wholeheartedly agree with you that it is about intellectual stimulation and interest or curiosity. So do you think that higher education offers such an opportunity at present or is too weighed towards business needs?
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    Sep 7 2011: Interesting that I'm seeing this question today. My husband, kids, and I were visiting our alma mater for a football game this weekend and as we walked through the campus I remember remarking on the current anti-college movement. We both remember our years in school as a central place to figure out who we were and what was important. Of course, this continues to happen after graduation and yes, it can happen without going to college. Ours was a traditional 4-year away from home experience and in that somewhat secluded environment, we had time to explore some of our bigger questions without pressing financial or other "real world" concerns. The value of that sabbatical is something I don't think I could ever price out. As a result, I've spent most of my career and "real world" time now (sigh...) working to ensure that young people today are given that same opportunity. I know it's not for everyone, but the experience helped shape me as a person and taught me valuable lessons I use in my job every day.

    Before I left, my mother told me to remember that college isn't about training for a job. It's training for life. As we move into the digital age, it's important to remember that this training can be done in a more "just in time" method than was ever possible even when I went to school. I think higher ed has become even more relevant as it has the potential to expose you to the skills that will be more valuable than anything else: strong communication skills and an open mind. Your employer can teach you the program you need to use your job...but they expect you to be ready to go on your first day with the ability to communicate clearly. (so don't sleep through your composition class!!)
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    Sep 2 2011: One of the main values of higher education is social stratification. Thorstein Veblen's argues in the Theory of the Leisure Class that sexual selection dictates that waste, not efficiency, is the driving force behind economic institutions. Wasting resources is a "fitness display," much like a peacock's tail signals fitness to peahens, and thus has been sexually selected for.

    Th edification value of higher education, in the digital age, is certainly not worth the price. The stratification/certifcation value, however, the fact that having an overpriced, high-status degree can make you a more attractive person to both employers and the fairer sex, may well be.

    In the Internet age, in which all digital textbooks, videos, interactive tutorials, etc. can be recreated for everyone at zero marginal cost, the transfer of knowledge from one generation to the next is much cheaper than at any other time in human history. The reason the cost of higher education, at least in the US, has risen ~4 times faster than the rate of inflation is partly due to waste/social stratification/unconscious peacocking.

    So while higher education might have value from an individual perspective, the absurd cost is not the way a rational, self-aware society operates. The present system is just an absurd waste of human potential and talent.

    In the US we need to 1. Tax the rich 2. Improve the diets of the poor 3. Create a cheaper credentialing system to certify knowledge, which will allow us to take advantage of the digital age and have a more flexible workforce.

    I am not a free market fundamentalist by any means, but these absurd barriers to entry need to die and be replaced by a system in which equality of opportunity is at the very least on people's radar.
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      Sep 3 2011: Dear Bill,

      I loved your answer and your solutions. With the digital age it doesn't make sense to pay so much for a college education. However, as you rightly point out for the individual the cost might appear appealing to become more attractive to others. I have recently discovered such sites as the open Yale courses online as I no longer need to be certified for work. I can explore for my own satisfaction and intellectual enhancement. When I think about this, it is bitter sweet. How sad that I am now 38 years old and have just really embarked in the last 4 years on my own learning journey but how wonderful to have that freedom. A question I keep coming back to is, shouldn't university help all students to take their own learning journey? Is this possible in today's climate?
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    Sep 1 2011: Yes this is the misery of mankind today, we want guarentee out of everything, instead of beng independent with more education or higher education, we are getting helpless and reliant on some one else! Tyrany is that, the higher education is making more and more handicaps out of a simple promising human being by simply labeling them as engineers, Doctors, Scientists, Economist or Commerce Graduates and science Graduates! The whole system of teaching is to be changed, which systematically degrades the gut feeling of an individual to be self sustaining rather then a job seeker out of a Graduate or master degree holder! This is the failure of education system who mostly creates slaves of jobs out of majority young individuals. In fact education is for enriching ones knowledge and understanding of many or particular subject rather them prone to just being a job seeker! You can write to me at : writetoresilience@hotmail.com
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      Sep 3 2011: Yes Bakul, I agree with you there. I once left a job because the government explicitly stated that the whole purpose of the new system imposed on our teaching was to ensure economic success rather than enriching the individual. I could not continue knowing that this idea was consuming the whole of our education system. Education is so much more than business and jobs.
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    Sep 1 2011: Value is in the eyes of the beholder.... Does a bottle of water have value to a fish? Does a bottle of water have value to a man crossing a desert? If one makes the values of another one's own, then the answer is determined by taking a poll.... If one creates ignores the values of others, then one needs to look within..... If you find money or 'success' or status are important to you, then the value of formal education lies in its ability to generate these outcomes. If you seek other things, then economic and business needs become secondary (or totally irrelevant!). One can survive (billions do) without any guarantees of entry into job markets. They marry, have kids, make do, find ways of providing value to others by imitation or experimentation, and are happy enough. Others are 'successful' in business and commit suicide.... The meaning of education is not found in any 'marketplace' but inside one's head. Many a poet (e.g. Constantine Cavafy) has fed body with a pedestrian job but created value far from 'the marketplace'. Question: If no one had ever read Cavafy's poetry, would his life have had value? That's an open question.... and there's no one giving a 'correct answer' to this question....
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      Sep 3 2011: I agree Thomas that value is in one's head when it comes to education and it is down to each individual to decide it's value. However, within education and as an educator sometimes you are forced to promote a value in the syllabus, curriculum or certification aspect that you might not agree with. This is where education has to reconsider what that word actually is in our current world and whether our systems are really about education or producing employable people.
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        Sep 3 2011: Some would say education is about producing employable people. Others think it's about other things. And if an educator feels forced to promote a value that he/she does not agree with, that educator needs to decide what's more important: his/her value or 'going along'. Sometimes (perhaps in a choice of fiction works to be included in a course on English Literature) a person decides to 'go along'. Other times (perhaps if faced with issues of truth versus lying about 'our Islamic enemies' in a course on Comparative Religion) a person may decide the time for 'going along' is over. These choices have always been the burden borne by educators. Remember Socrates?
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    Sep 12 2011: The educational system we're running over here is still the CPF system (Cram, Pass and Forget) system. Until there is a critical overhaul in the educational system, there is really not much value in gaining a higher education, besides the opportunity to network... but there will forever be value in EDUCATING YOURSELF!
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    Sep 10 2011: To make you know about the world ,yourself,and you can never lose passion and exciting.
  • Sep 2 2011: A higher education is certainly valuable, If only because it generates a pursuit of knowledge. Sure, not everyone will graduate and immediately use their degree in the work force, but I believe that is a commentary on the state of the economy not on the importance of a higher education. Universities are a place of academic freedom, a place that brings together great minds into a community conducive to intellectual progress. A higher education is not a promise of a bigger salary, a better job, or even a job at all, it is only a promise of increased knowledge, which when diligently learned and applied will lead to a good job and salary. Of course, learning is hard and if you spend all of your college days drinking beer, smoking bud and skipping class then why would you expect your degree to get you anything? The value of a higher education centered in the learning and the academic process, not in the degree itself. In short, is a higher education valuable? Absolutely! and Whoa! to the society who emphasizes economic success over the pursuit of knowledge!
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      Sep 3 2011: Absolutely Derek, I think sometimes we become so focused on the end product that we forget the process and the importance of the processes in the academic environment.
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    Sep 14 2011: I did 5 years of University, completing the Economics curriculum, but as an entrepreneur who started my first business while in College, I never finished my thesis which was a degree requirement.

    So I have wandered through life without a degree. As an entrepreneur, it never bothered or limited me. The only downside was repeatedly listening to mom about the importance of a degree in today's competitive job market. It mattered little for me to explain that I didn't have a job, didn't need one, wasn't looking for one and, later on in life, that my field and practical achievements were acknowledged and more valuable than any degree.

    Then the dot com bubble burst and my revenue was reduced in 90%. I closed my office, let my employees go and held on to most of my on-line properties while going into the consulting market.

    Although I was well connected and well received, the lack of a degree proved a complication in the hiring process of international organizations (and projects funded by them). Luckily, someone usually found a loophole or a way to skip the strict terms of hiring requirements, but mostly because I was a good fit for the job.

    I was lucky to have a head start in experience with Information Technologies for Human Development and landed several gigs as a consultant in that area in the early 2000's, but it was probably because there were yet no formal degrees for that area and my experience proved more relevant and valuable than the then available degrees in technology, social sciences, economics and similar (plus, I did have 5 years of Economics, just not a degree).

    I did make sure I was in the right place at the right time most of the time, ahead of the market, researching, innovating, creating, joining processes and adding value to any process I would participate, paying my dues as a beginner, early adopter, finding mentors and always working hard.

    University friends remain for life and a degree may be nice, but don't let it and a secure job limit you
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      Sep 14 2011: Thanks for this valuable set of first hand experiences. I like the balanced perspective you express in it!
  • Sep 14 2011: In the market now, it's not a guarantee of a job, but it will increase the ceiling of success you can have. I work in manufacturing and most of the 1400 or so production workers in my plant will never earn more than what a manager with a college degree starts out with, and there really is no limit on how high a manager can go, so long as they prove that they can perform at the higher level. From what I understand, this is the case in most of manufacturing.
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    Sep 13 2011: i also have this problem. facing graduation the next year,i feel some confused. post graduate or work? i choose work after graduation because of some individual reason. however, in China, there are more people who wait for employment, there are less jobs. maybe, because the problem of our national education system. higher education doesnot mean better capability. but a good education background is a stepping-stone to a good job.
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    Sep 13 2011: Yes it has more value beyond economic/ business needs see lemme explain.. More pain more gain less pain less gain and see the more you break your head and the more you suffer while doing your education the more or even double the times you enjoy after education :D :) its simple isn't it? (or are u searching for a thumbs down button????)
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    Sep 13 2011: Hi Sharon,

    I am kind of late in jumping into this conversation. So please forgive me I am repeating the points already discussed or I seem a bit incoherent.

    Higher education like any learning is meant for personal development in many ways. The capacity to earn and learn a decent life is perhaps the most important expectation out of it. Only if this need gets satisfied, things like adding value to organizations, societies etc. would happen. The problem is what is one 'Need' is another person's 'Want' and as a result the greater goal of helping the society with higher knowledge takes back seat. Added to this aspect, there are outliers in the negative side where highly educated people are jobless and this make people insecure. Amassing wealth then becomes the sole aim of an highly qualified person. Seldom it has happened that people in labs and design studios have also been the richest in the world.

    Education should be a means to reach to a higher goal. There are many problems in our world that need to be solved for the betterment of the society. It would require a common thought and action process among nations of the world so that demand and supply gap of intellectuals can be bridged. Imagine you are a great civil engineer and your actual need is in Cambodia but you are underutilized in Canada. Too much time has been already wasted in national jingoism, religion, race etc. and therefore some nations lag behind as if there are in medieval times. Yes, you cannot help hostile regimes but wherever talent is invited ,things like money and standard of living conditions are acceptable, people must help each other across the world. Towards that end, higher education creates meaning.

    No matter how much money one can earn, life without meaning is hollow.

    Rama
  • Sep 12 2011: I guess that would be a personal question. If you are studying for a job that you really want and think you'll enjoy,than I would say that going to university is worth it.
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    Sep 9 2011: I just entered college as a freshmen this year, and I really value education, in general, very much. It's my priority to get a higher education, and always keep learning new things (not necessarily have to be in school). However, I also respect some people's decision on not attending college, and start exploring the real world their own. It's really up to that individual to decide whether or not they need higher education, whether or not college is the right place for them. Some of the most successful people now are not college graduates e.g. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs... But they made the right decision because they can educate themselves (and others) through their works. For me, i think college is a structural guidance that prepare and equip students (especially technical majors students) in order to get ready to offer something great to the real world.
  • Sep 9 2011: I know a bit about foreign countries but in INDIA higher education is a huge matter, in INDIA talent is a later thing to be seen but your degree matter first.If you are an expert of the desired task with experience but don't have higher degree no way you would even think to get like. That's it. For every country a higher degree gives a higher importance and higher values rather then your basic need.

    ~nik
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    Sep 9 2011: One word.....FREEDOM!
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    Sep 9 2011: Gaining higher education in the 21st century is a matter of life...and death. In the past many races have been taken advantage of in the most....I don't think I really need to go into much detail with that subject. I'll just put it like this....the day when there are no people on earth with bad intentions, then someone could make an argument whether higher education is a waste of money. The more smarter we become, the more potentially dangerous we are. So it's smarter to know the same battle field of the others around you.....just in case.................but on the brighter side of life! lol life is about forward progression, even when we don't know the road ahead of us. That's why we have the ability to think. Let knowledge take us to new heights! All of that "higher education isn't necessary" talk sounds like a bunch of "i want to rule the world so bad, I want to make everyone stupid so I can take advantage of them" talk....scares me
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    Sep 9 2011: One of the main drivers of higher education is no different than big business - money! Also, keeping professors employed.
    What would all of the professors do if they didn't have tenure within the university system? Most of them would be useless to any corporation - they can lecture but they can't do.
    I don't mean to say that all higher education is of no use, but many of the courses that are taught in universities are of no practical use once one gets into the "real world."
    Universities are competing for the same thing - students = dollars = profit = more money to keep too many useless professors employed.
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    Sep 7 2011: If higher education becomes synonymous with elitism, bigotry and social divisiveness, then its value is flawed at best. If on the other hand, education is able to facilitate higher thinking along with empathy and understanding of the views of others, then its value is priceless. Thus there is a wide gulf of difference between education for employability and education for betterment of one's self.
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    Sep 6 2011: there are people who are uneducated yet certified that get the job over people who are educated and are not cerified so for that aspect i sat get a higher education, but dont assume that means your educated
  • Sep 6 2011: I think higher education is not valuable until u should have sufficient spirituality........

    have u ever heard begger or poor commit sucide than rich people????
  • Sep 3 2011: I think there are two kinds of people.
    One are people who are good at studying alone, you are expected to see them at the quiet area in the library.
    One need environment and some companion.
    I'm the first kind of people.

    Early today my show my mum a TED video, and she ask me: are you learning anything from it? Don't get her wrong, she think it's inspiring and fascinating. Instead of answer the question, I ask her questions.

    "If I go the the University without taking any course, but study exact every subject of someone's else degree, what's the difference?"
    She is like:"A degree and maybe some valuable connection"
    Great, so I continue "What if I take all the courses, but also I make friends, pretend to be one of the students and talk to the lecturers and do all kinds of social things, what's the difference?"
    She is a bit lost, but still :"Then a degree."
    Perfect, because I have little interest in my current degree in Australia now, for many reasons I choose it.
    And I know my mum is same as me, who if it is possible to skip all the courses and get the degree, will definitely say 'skip' (and then use some time to watch TED)
    So I continue: why not people like me just google and steal the course guide from the Uni and sneak into lecture then go to library and study everything out by our own? It's free and even awesome! Same result, same knowledge! Free of charge! How is this?
    She laughed.

    I don't know about you. But I feel sorry for the education system now, where Uni promise graduates 'if you have a degree, you can get a job'. Coz I think 10 years ago chief might say to a boy 'if you know how to cook, you can have a living' (no offence to chief). I know this is one bad joke. I'm just sorry at this moment, for both me and Uni.
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      Sep 3 2011: No disrespect, but it took me a minute to try and decipher what is being said here.

      Obviously, this is meant to argue the need for a tighter communications curriculum at this person's college.
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    Sep 3 2011: There are skills you learn just going to college that valuable in of themselves--setting aside the knowledge aspect of it. Time management skills, you learn to prioritize and to be disciplined; you hone your socialization skills and you interact with professionals/adults in a way that you had never experienced before (while in high school, or even while working a job, at that age (18 years to 21, let's say) ....

    You can learn some of these skills outside of college but college is a buffer for what comes later, it prepares you by making you more capable. It is a time of exploration before you plop yourself down in the more solid, concrete life of work and more fiscal responsibilities.

    You don't always do what you learn in college (ie your major) but that didn't matter to me. I hope that everyone goes to college and has a 'learning' experience (one without too much booze, I hope-lol) And believe it or not, I'm not necessarily a 'school person' and still found value in it.

    Become educated and you become more aware, in general. College life exposes you to many types of learning.

    Caveat: Make sure you are smart about your journey so it doesn't cost you an arm and a leg and, like I said, don't let the social outweigh (beer) everything else you do there haha).
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      Sep 3 2011: Dear Estela,

      Thank you for your answer. I really like your idea of exploration at university. You go on to say 'before your plop yourself down'. Do you think exploration still continues after university or that the more 'solid', concrete life of work and more fiscal responsibilities' deaden the ability to explore?
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        Sep 9 2011: You are very welcome. Oh exploration continues for sure but in a different context and in a different way, at least for me anyway. But perhaps it shouldn't be so different. Good point. lol
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    Sep 2 2011: For me the value of a higher education is internal. I love having the skills that i have honed. I love being able to analyze the information, ferret out the facts, think critically. It truly enriches my existence and i feel far more confident making decisions and choices based on this kind of thinking.
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      Sep 3 2011: Hi Debra,

      Thank you for stopping by. I agree the value of higher education is internal if you are in the right environment of course. The whole experience of critical thinking, not taking things at face value was truly enriching. However, sometimes I wonder whether all higher education is still like this, with the greater demands of economy and business. I have seen over the years business try to encroach more on higher education and this does concern me. Also as a non-linear thinker university was sometimes hard for me to access due to the way that I thought. I would love to see universities address different thinking styles rather than just a linear format. I was extremely lucky though at Lancaster University in the linguistics department. They did provide the most amazing environment to think critically and to access ideas, and also for undergraduates to critique professors work. It was a truly inspirational environment and one that really shaped an important part of my thinking life.
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        Sep 7 2011: Hi Sharon,
        You make some great observations above. Education is also partly the personal adjustments one has to make to get what they need out of the educational environment. Without those challenges we do not learn as many life skills. Even so, I often wonder what happens to the young people who cannot make the adjustment or keep digging until they get what they need. So many people bump up against education and fall away. I agree that more can be done but given the current system someone who cares about the individual needs to be there to give guidance and direction. It can be a Prof, a TA, a guidance counsellor or a friend.

        Business feels that they have needs that must be fulfilled and so they often have or buy input into university courses. My greatest concern is that when they endow one area, the administrations deem other- less business friendly (read less donation attracting)- faculites as less relevant when this is truly not the case. I think part of what we are facing as societies has to do with the generations that believed that education was for 'making a bigger buck'. We need people who have learned how to think 'the big thoughts' and to challenge the assumptions.
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          Sep 7 2011: So glad to read your first statement, Debra. As with so many things in life, it's in the way that you use it (ah, Clapton, the philosopher). The university can be a great source of wisdom and inspiration or it can be a drain on your finances. Question is, what did you choose to do with your time there?
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        Sep 7 2011: Hi Amy!
        I got my university education mostly on scholarships after I had become the mother of 5 kids and had worked in a factory for 10 years as the first woman to take a skilled trade. I did not get the chance to have the typical university experience. For me it was work but work that I loved. I learned as much as I could about as many things as I could. I got a masters degree in Social personality psychology because I am fascinated by people in every manifestation. I spent much of my time as a TA and I loved that role very much. I was awarded a full scholarship for a PhD based on my work on a neuroscience test which gave insight into the way precogntion works but my life made other demands on me (to my great disappointment because I wanted to teach at the university level) and i had to get a job. While in the job, I gained an MBA in marketing (as a way to focus my mind after a divorce0. Thus education has done far more for me than just what is on the label. It has helped me grow, cope, understand and find a renewed life.
        How about you?
        • Sep 9 2011: Simply education is a best part of life but a higher education bright you in the crowd.
          I fully support higher education and thanks for your experience.

          ~Nik
  • Sep 2 2011: I have no higher education and posed the same question you have asked to someone who does. His answer was that it teaches you how to think. I think it's a good old fashion brainwashing and would never think of going. I am a self taught well employed individual and there are many people with degrees who in my opinion can't think for themselves.

    James
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      Sep 3 2011: This is also true James thank you for reminding us of this. I think that higher education teaches you to think in a linear fashion. However, if you do not think in that way then higher education can be excruciating. People who have not been to university can still think and often in some of the most amazing, dynamic and inspirational ways.)
      • Sep 6 2011: Thank you for your comment Sharon. Sometimes I feel out of place not having a degree when everyone I work with does, but you are right there are different ways of thinking. I think abstract and create trainings in this manner, trainings with no research I just think them up. The people I work with review them and approve them to be taught to others. I teach the mentally ill, doctors, residents, family members of the mentally ill, and healthcare agencies. I think a university would have squashed my creativity and taught me how to think like everyone else. Thank you again.

        James