‘Through their own folly they perished – fools’ – A Health Warning to Higher Education
“Yet even so he saved not his comrades, though he desired it sore, for through their own blind folly they perished—fools, who devoured the kine of Helios Hyperion.” – Homer, Odyssey I
If in the event that someone was so desperate as to ask me for just one piece of advice, right now it would be to postpone any prospective plans of going to university to study the arts or social sciences, by-pass it completely if at all possible. The primary reason being, that such a degree has, unsurprisingly, lost so much of its value as to render it practically useless. On the surface, this advice might seem preposterous (just how will one progress in society?), but at the moment I am inclined to believe it to be sound. Why then, do I advise the postponement of a university education?
The Irish Times recently reported that there is an estimated 100,000 unemployed graduates in Ireland, which makes for just over a fifth of the total number of unemployed in Ireland in 2012. In short, graduates are entering a strained and over-subscribed labour market that does not require the expertise, if any, that a university degree provides. A quick perusal of the skill requirements of even
the most menial of jobs will show that ‘real world’ experience trumps a degree every time, and so a vicious circle emerges: one needs experience to get a job, but one cannot get experience without a job. The result is an ‘educated’ sector that is not qualified, is deflated and increasingly aimless. Consequently, if it is not viable to seek a career change, and in many cases it isn’t, the only way to
use one’s degree is to look to post-graduate study, be it through a taught MA, Higher Diploma in Education or structured PhD. Unfortunately, the problem with this is that post-graduate courses are now prone to flooding, in the same way that undergraduate courses have been and continue to be. Sadly however, it appears that the trend is continuing. Of the applicants to higher education this
year, over 42% applied for courses in arts or social science:
‘This year, more than 8,800 students opted for higher-degree science as their first choice while 5,400
opted for engineering and technology. This is still dwarfed by the 15,600 who made arts or social
science their first preference.’ (Irish Times, March 2012)
The ease with which higher education can be accessed, as facilitated by the government, who pays for most if not all of it, along with the relative ease with which people can attain degrees has made going to university a very attractive route for young adults in Ireland, but it is ultimately detrimental to the value of education itself. Many campuses are already over-crowded and lecture halls unfit for
purpose; they are littered with apathetic hordes and faux-revolutionaries. Most are drawn to university not by the noble pursuit of knowledge or even the hope of carving out a decent existence, but by the lurid allure of the disgusting party life-style, which has apparently seized society by the scruff of the neck (see dreadful programmes such as Skins, Jersey Shore and Tallafornia). This is
not socialising, this is sheer, unrestrained mindlessness. To call the modern Irish university a zoo would be an insult to animals.
A recent article in Sin (the student newspaper of the National University of Ireland, Galway) reported that drunken students routinely harass a prominent group of peaceful protesters in Galway, sometimes employing glass bottles as missiles in addition to their ignorant verbal assaults. However, it is during events such as the infamous misnomer ‘RAG Week’ that swathes of students (and admittedly other non-student stragglers) embarrass themselves beyond repair. Youtube videos show mobs of inebriated adults stupidly engaged in primitive chanting, acting in an intimidating and destructive manner. Yet, amazingly, local politicians have implicitly excused these adults for their outrageous behaviour. Labour councillor Billy Cameron, in what must surely be construed as pandering to the student vote (if that even exists any more), said that while he did not condone the actions of drunken students, he thought that the responsibility ultimately lies with pubs and clubs who, as he suggests, ‘facilitate’ such despicable behaviour. In one fell swoop, Cameron granted a licence to grown adults to behave like unmannered, ill-disciplined children. Is it really any wonder that Ireland is where it is with such ludicrous public acceptance of such deplorable convention? Interestingly, and I’m not sure if this was deliberate on the part of the editor, but under the aforementioned article was a piece called ‘Overheard in NUI Galway’ which recounts some of the, perhaps more absurd (perhaps not), overheard conversations on campus. Without quoting them here, rest assured that it will not fill one with confidence for the welfare of future Irish generations.
So, if a lack of clear opportunity at the end of the tunnel isn’t enough to dissuade you from pursuing a degree in the arts or social sciences at present, then the untethered debauchery and the insufferable pseudo-intellectualism of many of your peers should ultimately put you off, that is, unless you happen to be among the wretched yourself, in which case, you will no doubt revel as the proverbial pig in… Does an alternative currently exist? It seems that our newest Elysium is now Canada, which is crying out for skilled tradesmen and labourers, but the images of recent job expos have shown the harsh reality that these positions too will be grossly over subscribed. What, then, is the solution? To my mind, a reform of the manner in which one can enter higher education would be a start. From there, standards within higher education itself can be raised. Put simply, the value of a higher
education must be restored.