Why going to college is not about snobbery

So our high rates of third level participation are down to snobbery.  So says a senior academic who takes the view that more students should be encouraged to do apprenticeships. That’s nice of him to suggest that other people’s kids should spend their lives doing (skilled) manual work, just like in Germany. Of course the fact that the German economy has a much stronger manufacturing base than Ireland is never mentioned.

There are a couple of reasons why youngsters are flocking to third level education in Ireland. The first has to do with basic economics. In Ireland the lifetime financial benefit of having a degree is huge. We have created a society of haves and have nots, more so than any other country in the OECD.

earnings

The second reason is the fact that school-leavers are constantly bombarded with advice about the need to be fully equipped to take part in what we claim will be our ‘knowledge economy’.  Phrases like ‘jobs that don’t exist’, ‘problem solving’, ‘critical thinking’, ‘learning to learn’, or even ‘STEM’ itself, are bandied about so often now that is entirely unexpected that school-leavers feel that if they don’t go to college they will be left behind.  If you google “21st century skills”, you’ll get over 1.7 million hits and when you think of ‘21st century skills’, plumbing or car mechanics or carpentry are words that do not come to mind. It’s hard not to think that the world of education exists in a sort of middle class bubble.

The World Economic Forum regularly churns out documents on the future of jobs that say things like

“The accelerating pace of technological, demographic and socio-economic disruption is transforming industries and business models, changing the skills that employers need and shortening the shelf-life of employees’ existing skill sets in the process.”

So the constant message that comes through is that the future is uncertain and any young school-leaver would be quite right to make themselves as adaptable and flexible as possible. After all, that apprenticeship that they might like to pursue might not exist in five years’ time. Perhaps, sometime soon, all car maintenance will be done by robots (as opposed to Roberts) and we won’t need mechanics. What’s a school-leaver to think?

 

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About Greg Foley

A lecturer in Biotechnology in Dublin City University for more than 25 years. Trained as a Chemical Engineer in UCD (BE and PhD) and Cornell (MS). Does research on analysis and design of membrane filtration systems.
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