Shivani Shukla weighs up both sides of the debate on the necessity for higher education.

High levels of institutionalised education has undoubtedly become an implicit part of modern-day life, with college education becoming almost synonymous with success in our information-driven global economy. There has been an increase of nearly 20% in the number of entrants into third level institutions in Ireland over the past decade. However, as authorities are working towards higher participation, the exorbitant fee has pushed a considerable crowd out of favour with higher level education, with emerging preference for ‘learning by doing’.

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an international study done by the US Census Bureau concluded that earning a bachelor’s degree will more than double the pay of a high school graduate, with the annual salary averaging about $42,000 (~€36,000)”

There are irrefutable advantages of an academic degree in the labour market and an international study done by the US Census Bureau concurs with this through its finding that earning a bachelor’s degree will more than double the pay of a high school graduate, with the annual salary averaging about $42,000 (~€36,000). Another study in the States has found that every dollar spent on a college education produces $34.85 in increased lifetime income. Such figures may also apply in the case of Ireland.

 

In addition to higher monetary returns, numerous studies have found that compared to secondary level graduates, college graduates have better health and social prospects, higher levels of life satisfaction and self-esteem, and lower rates of criminal activity and incarceration. In correspondence with such bright statistics in favour of higher education is also the fact that colleges and universities provide an atmosphere of endless opportunities for self-centric exploration and growth as well as developing lasting social relationships. All these advantages are inter-linked and develop in tandem with more preparation for the ‘real world’ through simulated settings. It is then not too unbelievable that college graduates fare better, in most instances, than pupils that leave education after fulfilling the compulsory years.

“Such inequity of access to what is considered an almost essential stage of life, is becoming a major reason of disfavour for institutional higher education.”

Having said this, higher education in the modern society may be becoming more of a means to an end. That is, the surety of brighter life prospect and giving a person an imperative sense of fulfilment. However, there is a section of society that miss out on these benefits due to the financial constraints from exorbitant fees and inhibited access to higher education. Such inequity of access to what is considered an almost essential stage of life, is becoming a major reason of disfavour for institutional higher education.

 

Education is transformative and, as Einstein said, remains long after school has ended. You start off, tabula rasa, and once formal education starts, you fill up your brain with whatever information is needed to equip yourself, but along the way you may also find a purpose for all the gathered bits of knowledge and if fortunate, will also find a passion for doing so. College is the perfect place for such explorations.  Moreover, higher education is not simply a hefty monetary investment; rather, it is a venture into an adventure, a gateway for not merely passive learning but active engagement in the society which leads to development of a holistic individual. Increasingly flexible degree programmes and choice of more diverse range of subjects has also piqued interest of new higher education entrants. With definite positive returns at societal and individual levels, more inclusion and equal opportunity along with manageable fee structures in third level educational institutions surely must be prioritised by national authorities.