I read an interesting article in The Times this Saturday (19 Jan 2013) about the American Multi-billionaire, Mark Thiel. Thiel made a fortune as one of the founders of Paypal and lent $500,000 to Mark Zuckerberg in return for a 10% share in Facebook which in turn worked out to be worth an absolute stack. Thiel, is a reclusive philanthropist who has BIG ideas. He is disappointed that the sum total of our technology is not colonisation of space or the discovery of Eco-friendly alternatives to fossil fuels but the ability for millions of humans to communicate instantly in less than 140 words.
The thing that really struck me about the article was Thiel’s mentoring of incredibly bright 19 year olds (one had built his own nuclear fusion reactor in his Dad’s garage) whose ideas had the potential to change the World and the way we live. That mentorship and patronage extended to the payment of £100,000 each if they started their own businesses and projects (funded with Thiel’s money and expertise) instead of going to university. The premise was that the university route was a waste of time, a route that inevitably lead to Wall Street (in US circumstances) as a means of alleviating student debt and meeting parental expectations, and a route that channelled talent away from it’s full potential.
Coincidentally, I had also read a short book entitled ‘Why School?’ by Will Richardson in which he questioned the relevance of traditional educational routes, in particular whether traditional teaching and learning methodology was irrelevant given the educational technology now available. The ability to educate yourself is all around and for most people the internet is the gateway to self-development, in whatever form and at whatever speed and time you wish.
So, this begs the question: “University, why do it?” For too many the answer is ” Because it leads to status and a well paid job”. Unfortunately, for the same many, that answer is a fallacy. Erosion of the professions through rampant consumerism that chases the lowest price from the lowest common denominator has seen to that. Student debt, exorbitant house prices, equally exorbitant rented accommodation and a recession that demands more from employees given less resources and rewarded with less pay all add pressure. In fact the term ‘Quarter-life Crisis’ has now been coined to describe the way 22-29 year olds feel trapped by the aforementioned in a life going nowhere. Maybe the answer is to stop chasing the university route, the yellow brick road with an equally disappointing Wizard of Oz at the end. Maybe the answer is to embrace education as a truly lifelong developmental duty that we owe ourselves to continue, education free of tuition fees and unadventurous courses lacking innovation, invigoration, engagement and imagination. Never has the term ‘University of Life’ been truer. Set your own course, define your own outcomes, decide your own mode(s) and sign up today, now!