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September 12, 2011 | by  | in Features |
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Should i drop out of Uni?

Often it seems like opinion falls into one of two camps. Either university is vital for success, or it is irrelevant to it.

We’ve all heard the stories of how a business degree didn’t mean that Jimmy had a step ahead in his new job, or how the law graduate still had no working idea of how the law applied. Bachelor of Arts has started to become synonymous with ‘career-less’ to many. On top of this, we have entrepreneurs who barely scraped through primary school, sitting on top of their game—Steve Jobs from Apple dropped out of university, and New Zealand’s second most popular website, TradeMe, was set up entirely by a dropout. So why university at all? Do we need it? Isn’t life, these days, about the connections we have to those already in our chosen lines of business?

Well, frankly, university will only get us so far. Even qualifications which seemingly guaranteed work are failing to deliver—in the United States last year, 87.4 per cent of law graduates had any sort of job nine months after graduation, 11 per cent of which were only part-time. Having university qualifications won’t necessarily protect your job from cuts, nor will it necessarily push you ahead in the field—common feedback from jobseeking graduates is that employers are asking for industry experience, not simply a degree. Most degrees—BA, BSc especially, do not exactly funnel one into a specific, eagerly await jobs.

Once we have a job, having a tertiary qualification will improve our starting rate and average income level. OECD data also shows that holding a tertiary qualification will reduce the income gap between men and women—that is, with a degree, a woman is more likely to earn a similar amount to a similarly qualified man, whereas without tertiary qualifications, women earn on average around 30 per cent less. (To some extent, this disparity is a result of 30-44 year old women working part time.) Women specifically are financially better off with a degree than without, as women in the labour market are typically valued less than men. It seems that the more vulnerable a person is, the more likely they are to be discriminated against, and the better their odds of success with a degree.

New Zealand, however, has some uncomfortable statistics when it comes to jobseekers with tertiary qualifications. In comparison with much of the developed world, our qualified jobseekers start on rates similar to the unqualified, and do not catch up to where they globally should be for quite some time. Many jobseekers feel they are overqualified—their qualifications and experience are much greater than those required for positions advertised. Furthermore, employers can be uncomfortable with hiring someone who will quickly want more money and possibly be trying to hike up the corporate ladder quickly.

But what about the Steve Jobs of the world? Those who have little more than a focus, and drive to succeed? Well, do you have a million dollar idea, and the drive to see it through? Go on, try it. Try to go to university with this passionate idea sitting in the back of your mind, buzzing away while you try to write assignments. Put your spare money towards making it work. Don’t have such an idea? Perhaps you should stay at university. One of the reasons that such a drive to succeed is so important, is that not going to university or having similar mentoring and assistance means that there is a whole lot of learning which needs to be done. One cannot simply buy a license to print money—running a business is potholed with legal obligations, loopholes, and problems. Caring about your business enough to go the extra mile and dot all of the ‘i’s is the difference between the Serepisoses and the Forbeses of this world- cutting corners and ignorance will only get you so far, and a lifetime is a long time to deal with mistakes. Relevant university degrees will ensure that you have a depth and breadth of knowledge about your chosen subject, as opposed to cherrypicking the interesting parts and ignoring others which in reality are rather vital.

As short a time as ten years ago, one could get a bank loan and take the plunge towards developing million-dollar ideas. Today’s economy, when no credit is as bad as bad credit, many people simply cannot afford to take the risk. While University is expensive, you come out of it with something you will hold for the rest of your life—education, and formal qualifications. While repaying your student loan is a daunting task, every figure I could find showed that the increased income from those qualifications translated to about a 10-15 per cent return on the investment of those years and that expense.

If embarking on a trip up an existing corporate ladder, personal connections may mean much more than a degree. But if you don’t have those connections, the best place to make them is at university, where you are studying alongside the new generation’s greats. You are daily crossing paths with hundreds of students, and any one of them may positively impact your world in ten years (best to not piss a lot of people off). Your lecturers and tutors often still have a hold in the professional world, and people talk. You may get just the right foothold, having spent a few years picking the brain of your future employer’s friends—your tutors and lecturers.

All success involves learning. We can’t start with ignorance and succeed without advancing beyond ignorance. Perhaps evaluating how and why we learn is the first step into becoming successful, as university is not the ideal learning structure for many. If university is not your thing, then look for another way to keep improving as a person and supporting yourself. Most entrepreneurs know that they will never work ‘for’ someone, but rather want to succeed on their own terms. Succeeding without a mentor, again, requires a significant amount of self motivated learning—something we can all learn from our university education. There’s no right answer as to what we, individually, should do. But graduating into a supermarket job, to eventually make something of yourself, is still better than dropping out into a supermarket job, and hoping for the future.

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