We are losing sight of educations true purpose.

I’d always thought I wanted to study Law, but when it came down to it, I didn’t think I had the dedication required to put in all the hours it took and really, I just wasn’t sure. I didn’t quite know what to do. So I just went with it. No real thought towards a career path or how I was going to use my studies in the future. Arts degree it is then.

So I went, studied two years of history and psychology, then changed my mind and completed a degree in International Relations. At no point with a career in mind. But I loved it. I loved ever bit of it. What being there showed me is that what I love to do is learn. I still have not used my degree on the job market but that, as we will discover shouldn’t be the sole purpose of the student experience.

What I’d like to talk about today is my dissatisfaction with the way in which there has been a societal limitation placed on education. Universities have become an industry in the business of profit and manufacturing workers. Their priorities now lie in efficiency and outcomes in employability rankings, while sacrificing student growth and satisfaction in exchange for increased profitability. Rajani Naidoo – a higher education researcher at the University of Bath – speaks of a global “competition fetish”. Increased interest and competition over the limited yearly spots offering universities a basis for adding financial pressure on students.

A huge example is the move from semesters to trimesters within Australian universities. This decision was not made with the student in mind, but profitability. The amount of students I have had this discussion with that have expressed their dissatisfaction in how their studies now feel rushed and cramped, not allowing them to process and internalise anything they learn should be taken into consideration.

Universities were established not with the intent of producing specialists, but with the goal of providing instruction in skills, the search of the truth, the promotion of the powers of the mind and the transmission of culture in order to cultivate men and women. But that’s now gone and in its place is nothing but an institution with the sole goal of filling seats.

Those are the skills employers truly desire anyway. I suspect the fact that less focus is now placed on these qualities within universities is the reason less and less companies now require degrees from applicants (except specialised industries of course). Our society has polluted the sanctity of knowledge and transformed a place of growth into a place that will put you in a box and ship you off to the highest bidder, as a degree now should always mean a career.

Degrees that offer freedom, and the opportunity for self development, self exploration and self betterment are seen as useless and avoided. Degrees in art, history and literature are perceived throughout society as pompous self-aggrandising mediums for the self-important.

I personally feel that attending university for the four years that I did, completely changed me as a person. The fact that I attended without a clear goal in mind allowed me to jump around disciplines and learn a well rounded criteria, from psychology, sociology, history and political economy, to environmental science, policy and geopolitics.

Most importantly, it taught me the importance of learning. It instilled a level of curiosity and thirst for knowledge that will be with me for the rest of my life. I want to learn everything I can learn and want to explore the unexplored.

It taught me to be open minded, as jumping around in different disciplines was very conducive to interacting with people that had different ideals and perceptions. Learning to mediate within disagreement is an important skill. Having no one watch over you and your performance teaches you to truly organise and manage time. Compared to high school and even a classic work environment, during university no one stays on top of your work unless you do. You don’t do the work, you fail. This is how you learn responsibility.

Universities shouldn’t be places you go for the sole purpose of starting a career. They should be places that create an environment conducive to self-exploration and growth, as well as an introspective into society. They should be places of debate and opinion, not places promoting indisputable fact without challenge.

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