University Education: The ‘School is a Scam’ Shibboleth

Few weeks ago, I was on YouTube surfing through The Daily Show when a video caught my attention. In the video, Rory, one of the show’s correspondents, questioned the modern-day relevance of a university education, asking the question, “is it time to abolish college?”. He then went ahead to provide some points to back his claim. The discourse immediately brought to mind a slang that generated widespread debate in the country few years back. “School na scam.”

The slang “school na scam”, is based on the impression that graduating from the university does not necessarily give one the guarantee that our goal of financial security and better standard of living will be realized. The proponents of the slang argue that tertiary institutions in Nigeria are synonymous to ponzi schemes. They extort from you and give you in return what tends to be of little or no relevance. The case of Osunleke Alaba who recently stormed his alma mater, LAUTECH, returning his certificate and demanding a refund of the fees he paid before he graduated makes for a good example.

Is school a scam? Are university degrees a waste of precious time and money? Is education even still the key? Do we truly need to scrape unis? Or perhaps are these arguments outright baseless?

In this week’s MediVoice Opinion Piece, I put the contentious slang on a weighing scale and share my view on the topic. Hang with me.

University Education – Arguments For and Against…

Those who are “pro-university education” support their claim with such points as: it offers job security, it broadens one’s horizon, it produces well-informed citizens, you need a degree to secure most jobs, networking. The list goes on.

Arguments against a university education have centered around how it does not equip one with the necessary life skills needed in society, it is not a prerequisite for success and how the degree does not guarantee you a job or success, amongst others.

Putting Them Side by Side…

First off, university education, for all it’s worth, does not equip you with the necessary skills to succeed.

“The universities are for learning theories,” renowned late professor Sophie Oluwole said in a scathing interview. “Education,” she continued, “should be functional.”

“Education should be functional.”

Professor Sophie Oluwole

This statement cannot be truer. For four years (which is hardly ever the case these days with incessant strikes here and there) the university creates regurgitating machines. The best students are the ones who can reproduce the content of the lecturer’s material.

You end up with a degree that does not translate into actual qualification to do a job. Many graduates possess knowledge but lack practical skills to carry out specific tasks. Need I mention the myriad cases of graduates of a particular field working in totally unrelated field? Or graduates who have since tossed their certificate aside to learn actual skills they now earn with? I think not.

Besides, university education in Nigeria has failed to evolve with time. Fifty years ago a lot of the arguments for a university education might have hold water. But this is 2023, not 1986. Take the argument that a university degree puts you in a better position to land a good job. A statement that would have been valid 2 decades ago. Gone are the days when every graduate had a job waiting for them. Today, having a paper certificate doesn’t give you that edge in the labour market. In fact, it is the digital and soft skills you accrue—not from a university but from outside the four walls of a school—that give you a competitive edge. Why spend 4 years for a university degree when all Google requires to hand me a job is my portfolio?

It doesn’t help matters either that, for an investment that doesn’t guarantee an equivalent ROI, the cost of getting that degree keeps rising astronomically.

“We’ve got people spending more money than ever for a degree that means less than ever,” Rory said. Again, apt.

But is a university education completely useless? Well, of course not.

A lot of graduates say the networks formed while in school helped them to expand their horizons. Many have been able to secure jobs through the contacts they made in school. The curricula used in these institutions might not necessarily prepare you for life outside school, but the environment certainly offers the opportunity to build your network—what I’ll describe as its singular biggest advantage.

Notwithstanding, a university degree by itself is not enough to launch a successful career.

Truth is, opportunities may not readily open up to people with just paper certificates if they refuse to acquire important work-related skills. Education is important but not the ultimate path to a better future.

There are those who even assert that tertiary education is a luxury. Regardless of whether this is true or not, it is being proven continually by myriads of evidence that a university education is not a prerequisite for success.

In Conclusion…

While I will not be too quick to call school a scam, there is a need to redefine the aim of going to school. Because if the reason is to bag a degree so as to get a good job, I’m afraid you might be getting it all wrong and you invariably run the risk of falling into the midst of those who see school as scam.

A university degree is certainly not your saviour in today’s world. Not especially when there’s an AI on the loose threatening to displace that very certificate!

To check out other opinion posts, click here.

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