Recognizing what a university degree is and what it isn’t

A university is not designed to provide you with real-life professional skills

A university degree is not a guarantee for a future job. PHOTO: Mohammad Shahhosseini / Unsplash

By: Jacob Mattie, SFU Student 

A university is not a vocational school. It does not give you a complete set of skills needed by the labour market. The purpose of a university is to impart knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Alternatively, at levels beyond that of an undergraduate degree, it is to pursue original research and compile new arrangements of knowledge. However, universities do not build a fully job-ready individual.

This is in contrast to vocational schools like BCIT which train students explicitly in the skills needed to succeed in a specific field, prioritizing functional ability over theory. 

Together, these academic institutions produce a great majority of our skilled workforce, but there seems to be some muddying of the waters about what can be gained from a certain institution. 

Students seeking employment or a steady job immediately after graduation should not be at a university; they should instead be at a vocational school. The skills gained from a university degree have immense value when complimenting a previously existing set of skills, and help build the habits one needs to pursue their studies.

This manifests itself in the unpleasantly common situation of post-graduate depression, wherein almost 50% of recent graduates report worsening mental health. A decline in mental health after the hellscape of academia is hardly an encouraging concept, and it is often attributed to the feeling of “what now?” that follows graduation. 

Graduates hope to apply their hard-earned skills to the labour market, find a good job, and settle into regular life. However, the rejected job applications pile up, and graduates are forced to take a job that is either irrelevant to their degree or doesn’t require one in the first place. Such a mismatch in education and employment is defined as overqualification and is expected to occur for 20% of graduates, many of whom remain consistently overqualified for the rest of their careers. 

The problem here is that people think a university degree will guarantee them a job, and this is a problem that universities are not trying to fix. More enrolment means more income, and as university rankings are often based on research output, more income allows for more research. This means a higher ranking or drawing in more students accordingly. However, this comes at the expense of undergraduate students who may be expecting a university degree to help them build a life after graduation. 

This is not the case. 

A university will offer career workshops and support, but it is not their purpose to teach these skills. To avoid post-graduate depression, and to understand the motivation behind the assigned coursework, it is crucial to keep perspective on the role that a university degree plays that of a supplement, not a goal in and of itself.