Last week, as the rain lashed and the wind gusted outside, a dry tavern provided the perfect space as a friend and I pondered a frustrating question: Why had we decided to spend more than three additional years in higher education?
Perhaps this is a question you might be asking yourself. Although to some the benefits of a degree are obvious, others might rightly ask why one would pay to spend further years in education and out of work. This is especially true for students such as us, who have no definite plans to be doctors or lawyers or any other such profession which directly requires a degree.
Some initial ideas sprang to mind: our friends and classmates were doing it, so it only seemed natural to do the same; our parents encouraged us to continue in education and so did our teachers. But why? Why did those around us encourage us to carry on? Many would say that University is worthwhile for the social experience, and although this may be true, the social experience was not the primary draw for us.
We then fell upon the often claimed financial statistics – conventional wisdom says that graduates will earn more money than non-graduates. This may also be true, but as my comrade pointed out, this is offset as time spent in education prevents one from taking a full time job – thus one forgoes the opportunity for earning during that time. Then you have to factor in living expenses, tuition fees, travel and many other costs besides. So even if a graduate does earn more, they must first accept that their financial situation is likely to start in the red.
Nonetheless, over a lifetime perhaps the graduate will still make more cash. But still, was this the real reason? Some of the best known business tycoons are not academics, so clearly financial success is not guaranteed by a degree.
Outside the confines of the tavern, the ominous clouds didn’t appear to be shifting. “We should be at work!” we both joked as we remained at our wooden table, draining our pints. And then a strange thought occurred to us. A good understanding of the world, decent career prospects and a good salary were all important to us – but perhaps there was something simpler.
We realised that what a degree would give us was greater options for the future. Maybe we weren’t going to be doctors or lawyers, but a degree would allow us to work as academics or as teachers, which are positions we would both consider. Also, degree qualification could allow greater career progression in any employment, and it would facilitate our travels of the world. For us, higher education was about the lifestyle we wanted for ourselves. A freedom to go further in the world than a 9 – 5 routine. The freedom to have greater choice in our careers. And most importantly, the freedom to be sat in a pub on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, with nothing better to do than enjoy a pint, some good company and the promise of a cold, wet walk along the coast.