Whilst browsing through the newspaper yesterday, I came across a few things related to university education. In the UK its a hot topic at the moment, with students protesting about higher fees. I read that there are also plans to reduce the number of places available.
I get the point of the protesters – that these plans seem to discourage young people, and particularly the less wealthy, from embarking on higher education. But maybe its also an opportunity to open up and question the value of a university education and if it’s really worthwhile?
In the same newspaper I also found a short report about Richard Branson, noted entrepreneur, who was reported to have said at an event in China, that British entrepreneurs are over-educated and that schooling does not prepare one for entering the business world. Branson himself left school at 15 and started running a business.
In the same article it was written that Peter Thiel, the first financial backer of Facebook, is encouraging young entrepreneurs to leave education, by offering 20 two-year $100,000 fellowships to teenagers, so they can work full-time on their creative ideas.
Plenty of highly successful and intelligent people never got degrees, and many never even had a formal education. Examples are Julian Assange, who was homeschooled and later dropped out of college, Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard, others include Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Winston Churchill…..
I remember choosing to go to university because it seemed like a good idea at the time and I didn’t know what else to do. I wanted to get away from home, meet people and branch out into the wider world, but needed the security and structure that university offered. I was not confident enough to just go out and do what I enjoyed and launch myself into the adult world.
A university education is also seen as a mark of status. But the world is rapidly changing and perhaps the era of the big old stuffy university institutions is coming to an end. Soon, perhaps, status will come from not attending one of these institutions, but from being part of a network of young creative-thinking self-organising people. I envisage a sort of cool new club, or ‘life university’ that provides many of the networking possibilities of a college, with different groups and societies to join, opportunities for debate and discussion, access to lists of apprenticeships and grants and scholarships, lists of short courses on a wide range of subjects that can be incorporated into a self-learning program, parties and get-togethers, tips for starting businesses and getting projects going, advice on part-time work, support and advice for leaving the home and setting up house with other young people. Maybe even special hostels for these ‘unofficial’ students. All run and organised by the students themselves.
I think the main point I am making is that while many systems in the world today, just don’t work very well, seem to be unsustainable, or badly run by governments – (education, health, public transportation, banking etc.), to me it seems more exciting to look for new alternatives, rather than look at what doesn’t work and try to fix it, patch it up, keep it going a bit longer, and all the while complain about it. Why not just walk away from it and create a different option altogether?
In the research for my previous education article, I found a few organisations that are changing the face higher education so I will link to them again here:
http://www.kaospilot.dk/Default.aspx (Danish alternative university)
http://swarajuniversity.org/default.aspx (very cool alternative college in India)