The role of the University

As readers are likely aware, the students of York University have finally returned to class, as what was truly a long, bitter winter has ended. Having personally known a few people affected, I have been led to reflect on our post-secondary education system here in Scarborough. Throughout the entire ordeal, I kept hearing about how desperately the students wanted to return to class.
This got me thinking, what is it that makes it so important that they return to university?

The answer seems simple enough: the refrain that’s been drilled into students since elementary school is get an education, and then a career.

But when you stop and analyze that, what is it they’re really after? They’re chasing after a piece of paper they can put on their wall, one that says they’re better than average, supposedly a ticket to the front of the line.
The theory behind that piece of paper is that it indicates you’ve been given certain skills.

But nowadays, it sometimes seems the skills are not as important as the paper itself.

For those who are not aware, this newspaper is primarily produced by students in the joint journalism program between the University of Toronto and Centennial College. We arrived here after two years at the University of Toronto and gone are the majority of the lectures, readings, and tutorials. Instead of just listening, we are now doing.

If anything, the whole experience has made me question what exactly it was we were doing for the last two years.
Working on an actual newspaper has underscored the fact that my previous education did little to actually prepare me for the goal of going into the workforce.

I suppose this goes back to the traditional role of universities. They were not initially career-makers, despite the common misconception. They were places of higher learning.

Students pursued philosophy, art, and advanced theories in science and mathematics. While those things certainly have a place in the world, it feels to me that people now expect these institutions to provide job skills.
This is further compounded by the fact that most students pay for this out of their own pockets, a bill that can total upwards of $20,000.

I wouldn’t say they are being swindled, but rather that we’ve collectively forgotten the original purpose of these institutions: to teach the abstract rather than the practical.

So where does that leave us? As stated before, it seems as though the content of the education isn’t on anyone’s mind, so much as the degree at the end promising a better future.

It nonetheless concerns me that students are not truly being prepared for the real world. Instead they are being taught abstract theory and then set loose into a very non-abstract, competitive world that they are not prepared for.

Were the students of York University really missing something essential?

Except as a means to an end, it doesn’t seem likely. And if this ordeal has driven any point home, it’s that our post-secondary system truly needs to evaluate its position in the modern world if it wishes to remain relevant.

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Posted: Feb 19 2009 11:43 am
Filed under: Opinion