Why it’s probably not worth going to university any more

I’ve been thinking recently, if I was a fresh-faced 18-year-old just out of college with my whole life ahead of me and pondering what to do next, would I go to university? The answer is probably not!

Before I explain, I must insert a disclaimer here that this does not mean that I don’t recommend anyone else to, neither does it rule out me sending my future kids to university. However, as a university graduate of 2004, the more I think about going to university today, the more I find myself wondering what exactly is the point?

My first issue with this age-old institution is the very modern practice of excessively high university fees.University fees on the rise again

A tax on knowledge?

As of next year, university tuition fees will be rising to a maximum of £9,000 which doesn’t include living expenses, cost of books, and all the other associated costs of student life – it is no wonder the latest UCAS figures show the biggest fall in university applications in more than 30 years!

How it is justifiable to fine, sorry charge, people whopping amounts to educate themselves is completely beyond me. Surely this is some kind of stealth tax on knowledge? From the parent perspective, I can imagine how massive a financial burden this must be, especially where there is more than one university-ready child in the household. These ludicrous fees may well see the UK go down the same route as China in future by adopting a one child policy to keep things affordable.

Forget uni, try YouTube instead!

The second reason I’m somewhat anti-university for now is that thanks to the internet, the world of learning has opened up in so many different and exciting ways that you can pretty much teach yourself anything you want by simply watching YouTube or scouring the pages of Google.

Unlike the somewhat restricted curriculum of a university module, self-taught subjects can be as varied as you like and as long or short as you like, and the best part is most of these online resources are free or low cost so you can save your university fees for your mortgage down payment instead. Also this way, you get to teach yourself subjects that actually affect your day-to-day life such as how to plan and achieve goals, manage your finances, develop a “winning” mindset and so on…

Branson didn’t go uni…and look where it got him

Entrepreneurship is not for the fainthearted but the truth is that it’s becoming more and more of an attractive option for young people who can’t find a job in today’s climate. It makes sense – if some big boss somewhere won’t give you a job, simply create your own! 

Richard Branson didn’t go to university and look where it got him; neither did Ingvar Kamprad – the guy who founded IKEA, Simon Cowell who needs no explanation, and countless other entrepreneurs who are today living their own version of “the dream” without first obtaining letters after their name.

And where did your degree get you…?

This is a question many graduates I know struggle to answer because what they do now is so far removed from what they studied at university that apart from the hefty debt they’re still paying back (myself included), there’s not much else to show for the certificate. Once upon a time going to university and getting a degree was mandatory for getting somewhere in life but today we have so much evidence to prove otherwise that it’s almost entirely old-fashioned to make such a statement.

There are of course benefits to going to university, such as the exposure to student life, better access to certain jobs in certain industries, practical skills of writing and submitting dissertations on time, and of course the reduced travel card fare and student discounts to theatres and films, but when you weigh that against the literal cost of going to university in these modern times, it’s only right to ask the question: would YOU go to university today?

UPDATE (11 December 2011): Read the follow-up blog post with views and comments from both sides of the fence


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  • sufiyapatel

    I think you raise some valid points. I think that there was a trend in going to university so it just became a normal part of lofe for most 18 year olds. Recent changes have made young people question whether it is the right option for them and I welcome this. However, I do think that some people are being deterred by affordability rather than reasons that are empowering to them.

    • MildredTalabi

      @sufiyapatel Hi Sufiya, you’re absolutely spot on – the affordability (or lack thereof) is the thing that’s most pushing going to university down the “probably not worth it” route which is the saddest thing about the situation. But I do agree that one of the positives is that young people are now starting to question this and assess their options altogether – that in itself, I think, is a very good outcome.

  • KathyGower

    I shared your blog post on my Facebook page. It didn’t go down well from some older women who’d been to university (I haven’t) and who had sons/daughters who’d also been or were still there. They saw it as a right of passage and as “a unique experience to be enjoyed for what it is”. Another said, “I adored my university years” and went on to say, “although I have never used my degree directly”. I really don’t understand that last comment. So much money spent or borrowed for what?

    • MildredTalabi

      @KathyGower Wow Kathy, that’s very interesting indeed! University can certainly be a rite of passage and a “unique experience” but for £9,000 I can think of many ways to obtain this same goal without incurring half as much debt – like taking a gap year in a developing country, for example!

      In the old (more affordable) days of university, it wasn’t so bad to go to uni and not use your degree directly afterwards, but today it’s almost an unwise thing to do if you consider all the debt you’ll be lumbered with afterwards. I still remain in the “probably not” category…

    • Jonjo Smith

      http://britishproblems.co.uk/students-now-leaving-university-55000-debt-really-worth-going/ – £55,000 in Debt after University, Is It Really Worth Going? !

  • nickjbedford

    Everything I’ve pursued and became proficient at (and sometimes earned income from) has been a self taught endeavour. I’ve learnt after school and university that I know if I want to try something I can simply teach myself. Not only do I skip many thousands of dollars in tuition fees, I also skip many months of redundant education (as personal experience indicates), I learn exactly what I need to get the task done, then I want more, so I research and teach myself more, achieving whilst growing rapidly in a field.
    The Internet is an amazing resource for that. Not only that, the expectation that I may fail is there and so I simply move on and learn from mistakes. I find and read highly regarded books, constantly find examples of high quality work which I strive to analyse and use that knowledge subconsciously.
    In the last five years I’ve learnt to become a C# .NET and database programmer (coming from a C++ background), I’ve learnt and become respected as a proficient photographer amongst my extended group (music, friends, social media) and proficient at lighting my scenes with limited resources, have a technical understanding in it all (again, all inspired by the desire to know *how* things are the way they are), and now I’m venturing in music video production, which means I’ve been scouring YouTube and other sites for valuable filmmaking knowledge, reading about screenwriting, composing scenes and shots, *PRACTICING* with trial and error. 
    I also learnt Photoshop, Illustrator, graphic design principles, user experience principles.
    I know not everyone learns this way, but I’ve proved to myself that I don’t need uni to achieve things I’m absolutely passionate about.

    • MildredTalabi

       @nickjbedford Nick, your achievements are remarkable – even more so as they have all been self-taught! I think while there is some value to be had in a formal education, you’re definitely a great poster boy for why it may not be worth it for many young people. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    • Jonjo Smith

      http://britishproblems.co.uk/students-now-leaving-university-55000-debt-really-worth-going/ – £55,000 in Debt after University, Is It Really Worth Going??

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  • Jonjo Smith

    http://britishproblems.co.uk/students-now-leaving-university-55000-debt-really-worth-going/ – £55,000 in Debt after University, Is It Really Worth Going?