I asked many of my friends why they are pursuing higher education. Do you know what the most common response was? None. Many couldn't tell me why they're studying. It seems to be a standard life trajectory: graduate high school, go to university, do a few internships, then dive into 40 years of professional life filled with monotony. While the school system undergoes reforms, higher education institutions, especially universities, are in dire need of it! Here are my thoughts as we enter the summer semester of 2015.
What value does an academic degree bring to a company? Fundamentally, not much. At universities, one learns a lot, but only a fraction of this knowledge is applicable in the professional world. As a computer science student, I'm adept at dealing with theoretical problems and proficient in mathematics, yet most companies primarily need professionals for server maintenance, programming, and similar tasks – areas that were never covered in my university curriculum. Ironically, these academics often earn the most. Those who have studied at universities of applied sciences (Fachhochschulen) have experienced more practical relevance and are thus slightly more valuable to a company. Yet, they earn less than a university academic.
Then there are apprentices. Having spent three years getting to know the company and familiarizing themselves with its systems, they are able to contribute the most from day one. However, they are paid the least.
The situation is paradoxical. It only increases societal pressure to perform. I want to earn a lot later on, so I must study. This is the philosophy preached by numerous companies. Ideally, you are 18 years old, graduated with a master's degree with a 1.0 GPA, completed several unpaid year-long internships, are active outside of university, have a broad set of soft skills, speak multiple languages, and additionally, you're attractive and have years of practical experience in everything necessary for the job.
Isn't that asking too much? Such utopian requirements contribute to the declining well-being of young people. I know many who have completely given up their lives to live solely for the university. Nothing else is an option – after all, it's a prerequisite for a future career. For any career.
There are undoubtedly many talented individuals with extensive practical knowledge in a particular field, perfect for certain jobs. However, they excel in practice, while universities focus on theory. Consequently, these individuals are denied access to rewarding jobs due to a lack of theoretical background. And there are only a few companies that look beyond this. Sadly, vocational training faces similar issues. If the trainer neglects the apprentice, they also end up acquiring theoretical knowledge from vocational schools.
For years, the school system has been reformed, which is a positive step. Yet, the university system remains untouched. This area, in particular, needs substantial reform. The same goes for corporate hiring criteria. We need more practical relevance in university programs! If universities wish to maintain their role in providing theoretical knowledge, then companies should strive for better equality among apprentices, university of applied sciences graduates, and university graduates.
Dear universities, provide more practical learning. Or offer more courses that include a degree of practical experience. Dear companies, treat every applicant equally. A diploma only reflects performance at a specific time and is not representative of a person's overall capabilities. Furthermore, a bachelor's degree mainly indicates one's ability to memorize books, texts, formulas, and opinions of others. Independent thinking is often sidelined. A university is not a vocational training center. This has been repeatedly told to me, but apparently not to you, the companies? If that's not feasible, then at least offer internships or part-time jobs that are manageable alongside studies and provide enough income to get by. I can neither eat nor pay for my room with an unpaid year-long internship. Studying is also not possible during such time. Fair part-time jobs for students would make life much more comfortable!
This situation cannot continue. We need change! Or a restructuring. But until then, we are slaves to the education system. Slaves of a performance-driven society, where one is defined solely by degrees and certificates. I feel like I'm in a Social Darwinism scenario. Germany, we need change!