Densil Williams | The Value of a University Degree: Beyond Job Preparation | Remark


There seems to be a growing tendency to believe that people go to college to get a degree in order to gain access to well-paying jobs. This simplistic notion of acquiring an education is quite disturbing. For what it does, if it becomes ubiquitous, is to lead to the conceptualization and design of strategies and policies in the education system that are biased towards a narrow outcome, which will not allow the society to benefit fully from a well-developed mind. . Instead of trying to prepare people for the labor market, the content and structure of which are haphazard, one should adopt the idea that education is intended for a holistic development of the mind, a by-product of which is adapted to the job market. If we take this broader view, job readiness will become one of the many outcomes that a society will achieve by providing high quality education to its people.

So when futurists like Anthony Clayton, professor at the University of the West Indies (UWI), observed that: “In the UK, for example, a college degree was once the route to a well-paying job, but around 20% of students today would have been better off financially if they hadn’t been to college,” there seems to be a subtle message to be said, degrees that are not geared towards job preparation are redundant and should be done away with in the university of the future. Even more disturbing is the silent message that we don’t need so many of our employees to graduate. I strongly advise against this kind of thinking, especially among public decision-makers, and even more so for those who control education.

Post-secondary education, including having a university degree, is even more critical for societies like ours in the Caribbean where only two in ten students who leave high school progress to post-secondary education, which is far behind compared to contexts such as the UK where seven in ten students advance to post-secondary levels of education. When the Caribbean, in general, can reach levels like the UK, we can eventually start discussing the suitability of a degree for the job market. Given our development challenge, which can be summed up as a lack of global competitiveness of our products, we urgently need to bring more people into post-secondary education to acquire relevant higher level skills such as critical thinking. , emotional intelligence, networking and diversity and teamwork, which will be relevant to operate in a 21st century world.


Stories emerging from futuristic predictions of whether or not a degree is a path to well-paid employment give the impression that in the future a college degree must be designed around the narrow outcome of preparing people for the job market, both today and in the future. Thinking of a college degree in this narrow sense of preparation for employment will lead to distorted policies on teaching and learning and leave learners missing out on the tremendous enlightenment that comes with learning. A college degree needs to be seen in the context of enlightenment so that people can make more informed and conscious decisions, which will ultimately fit into the job market of today and tomorrow. Because, critical thinking is more important than providing context-specific training for a particular industry or organization. A university degree is just one more step in the process of preparing a critical mind, a process that begins in preschool.

The university must not give in to the thoughtless and unbridled neoliberal idea that if learners cannot find employment through the courses offered, then it must close its doors. This simplistic approach to learning and creating knowledge will result in society failing to see the advancements that come with critical exploratory thinking, speeches and the falsification of ideas. Societies will only progress when divergent views are brought to the table and can be faked and reimagined for continuous improvement. This is the kind of value you get from a college degree. This value cannot be entered in a balance sheet, nor entered in an income statement. The value of education goes beyond financial measures. Indeed, society becomes much better to have more people with a strong critical mind, because there will be more citizens aware of protecting the environment, of making socially responsible decisions, of being more efficient in their task, this which leads to stronger economic results, manifested in productivity ratios. , among other positive externalities derived from having an educated population.


The idea of ​​preparing graduates for the job market spills over into a narrative that the future of universities is online. The underlying assumption is that by simply putting material online, students will download it, then take an exam and eventually graduate and become competitive in the job market. In addition, there is the idea that online is cheaper and therefore, if universities want to reduce operating costs, they should turn to online education. A nuanced understanding of online education will show the fallacy of this argument. There is a substantial cost structure to establish a sophisticated online platform for teaching and learning. There is also the cost of maintenance to ensure high quality customer service. Online is not as cheap as you might think.

To say that the future of the university is online ignores the community aspect of the teaching and learning process. Learners don’t go to universities just to pass an exam and get a well-paying job. There is a whole social interaction around entering a college campus that promotes the process of teaching and learning. Group dynamics are essential for today’s learner as they help them develop the skills needed for the 21st century. Skills like diversity, tolerance, and emotional intelligence don’t develop by hiding behind a computer screen in a virtual world. Physical interaction is necessary.

Indeed, the orientation of the university of the future cannot be purely virtual. It has to be a hybrid of virtual and face-to-face. A cavalier analysis to say that a university’s brick-and-mortar infrastructure will become redundant in the future is not the most appropriate at this time. An analysis that calls for a balance between the virtual delivery of aspects of the teaching and learning process and a physical bringing together of learners is the future. Therefore, universities should not rush to sell their physical infrastructure, but rather consider how they can reuse these facilities to create demand when areas of their operations are in the virtual space. The discussion of the future direction of the university should not be virtual or face to face, but virtual and face to face.

As we develop the discourse on the future of education, the narrative needs to be more nuanced and not extremist. The university degree should not be conceptualized using an instrumentalist prism that sees it as the passport to a well-paid job. The university degree and the wider educational process should be conceptualized for clarification. In this way, the teaching and learning process will develop a critical mind that can adapt to any job, whether now or in the future. The progressive university should be seen as a place of enlightenment, freedom of thought and learning, and not as an instrument for obtaining high-level employment.

– Densil Williams is Professor of International Business at UWI. Send your comments to


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