Do We Still Need Universities?

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Humans never stop learning. While most of us finish our formal education early on in adulthood, we continue to develop new skills and gain a better understanding of all sorts of important topics as we grow.

Some of the most common things we learn as adults are how to drive, cook, do housework, manage our finances, and file our taxes. You’re learning even when you don’t realize it; for example, the route you take to work each day was once alien to you, but over time, you developed an in-depth knowledge of the busiest parts of the route, sneaky shortcuts, and the sequencing of traffic lights.

We may also need to learn new skills for our work, whether it be a particular process that the business uses or something that can help us be more effective at our job. The traditional way to learn these things would be to attend a formal training course in person, spend hours traveling there and back, and be “unproductive” for a considerable length of time.

However, today, there are plenty of tools that will allow you to learn skills online. You’ll find digital courses for everything from food hygiene to workplace first aid.

Beyond the formal training courses available on the internet, there are plenty of other skills you can improve online. If you're a card player, you'll find plenty of articles and guides with tips on how to improve your poker technique and strategy. The same is true for video games, as walkthroughs and strategy guides are available for almost every title you could imagine.

Even life skills can be learned online through sites like YouTube, with videos that show you how to change a light bulb, remove stains from your clothes, and fix a dripping tap.

You can even learn topics that would traditionally be taught at university online, with topics like nutrition, HR, accounting, information security, and project management all available.

So, with so much knowledge available online, do we really still need traditional universities?

Traditional universities

The Case for Ditching Universities

Going to university (in many countries) costs a lot of money. In the UK, students can pay more than £9,000 ($12,400) a year to study, while in the US, that figure can be upwards of $35,000.

That is reflective of just how expensive it is to run a university. Students expect high standards of facilities, so campuses are often packed with the latest technologies. The land itself can also be expensive since many are located on prime real estate in cities.

Then there is the HR cost, with most higher education institutions employing hundreds or even thousands of people from cleaners to professors.

Attending university also usually takes up most of a student’s life for three or four years, delaying their ability to take a full-time job.

Applying for university is a complicated process in itself and can be very stressful, so if less laborious alternatives are available, they may appeal to some.

Therefore, ditching university and learning skills online can be a great way to get the necessary knowledge while saving money and getting into employment earlier. Crucially, it would mean students aren’t saddled with large amounts of debt that they will struggle to pay back.

The Case for Keeping Universities

Universities do much more than just print out degrees and diplomas, though it is easy to see why many people think that’s all they’re here for.

For most students, attending university is an opportunity to gain some independence in an environment that is safe and supportive. It is a place for them to make new friends that may come from different backgrounds to themselves, explore new interests, and have their world views challenged.

The “degree” part of getting a degree is a relatively small part of attending university. Studying most courses will teach you to think critically, rather than just get you to memorize facts and statistics that you have to regurgitate back in an exam. This is an important skill that will prove invaluable throughout life, especially in a world where the terms “disinformation” and “fake news” are significantly more common than they have been for a long time.

Of course, there are some disciplines where an online course isn’t appropriate. This includes medicine, practical sciences, engineering, and social care.

There’s also the fact that you lose the “collaborative” element of university education by learning exclusively online. There’s a lot to be said for the informal conversations that go on in a classroom that can enhance our learning.

In Conclusion

The internet has made learning easier than it has ever been. We have access to more information, training courses, and guides than at any point in history.

However, while often of very high quality, these digital training courses are not complete replacements for university education. For many people, getting a full, in-person university degree will remain the only option for their career path.

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