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Is Going to University Really Beneficial?

Why companies should change the way to recruit staff

James Huang | 2023.09.13

Recently, I read a news article online about a person who felt dissatisfied after seeing his former classmates living better lives than himself. He complained that his former classmates had worse grades than him in school, yet they were now better off than him. Many people responded by saying that having good grades in school does not necessarily lead to higher income, which seems to have become a consensus in this era. Of course, there are still those who believe that education level determines income, but this is an outdated perspective.

In Hong Kong in the 1990s, there were only two universities that offered bachelor's degrees. Now, there are eleven. In the span of a generation, the number of universities has increased by more than five times. When I was in university, the admission rate was 16%. Now, the admission rate is over 37%, and in Taiwan, it is over 95%. In the 1980s, it was possible to become rich by going to university, simply because university students were scarce. So while going to university may not be completely useless for economic benefits, it is certainly not as beneficial as it used to be.

There is a saying in Cantonese, "Men fear choosing the wrong profession, women fear marrying the wrong man." Setting aside the gender issue, one's profession has a greater impact on their income than their education level. In the past 10 to 20 years, the industries that have been truly profitable have had little to do with universities. In the early days of Hong Kong, real estate was the most profitable industry. Then, during the era of individual travel, salespeople in the pharmaceutical and taxi industries were making good money. Even in recent years, security guards make a decent income, with some earning over HKD 18,000 a month. These are all examples of careers that have little to do with university degrees.

Universities no longer guarantee economic returns, and the returns are even lower. Of course, someone will always argue that going to university is not just about making money, but also about improving the quality of the population or promoting social progress. Popularizing university education is still important. This is our defense of our trust in education, even if it no longer guarantees economic returns. Going to university must be beneficial, right? Over-education cannot possibly be harmful, can it?

Education is harmless, which seems obvious. But have we considered that going to university actually has costs? I'm not talking about tuition fees. Let's just assume that universities often provide financial aid to poor students, so let's consider tuition fees as zero.

In addition to tuition fees, there is also time. Even if tuition fees are waived, going to university for four years means delaying entry into the workforce by four years. If a monthly income of 2,000USD is assumed, the annual income is about 24,000USD, and over four years, it is approximately 100K USD. Basically, even if university tuition is waived, going to university itself still has a time cost.

If a person earns a similar or even lower income after four years of university education compared to someone without a university degree, then objectively, the degree has directly resulted in negative economic returns. A university degree does not necessarily benefit one's economic situation. Moreover, the time invested in pursuing a degree is during a person's golden years, when energy is at its best and adaptability to society is the highest. Spending this time on something that is essentially useless is a waste.

After finishing university, many people are already in their late twenties or even thirties and have just begun to enter the workforce. (Note: my business partner finish his PhD in ultra at 24 years old, he is a straight A scholarhship student since Secondary school) They have just started to learn about the workings of society, the economy, and the market. University cannot teach these things, and only by experiencing the real world can one learn. Ironically, university has not given them more knowledge, but instead robbed them of the time they could have spent familiarizing themselves with society and the market during their prime years. Without sufficient knowledge of the market and society, it is difficult for them to take on major responsibilities. How can you entrust people who lack sufficient basic knowledge of society with important tasks? This creates a vicious cycle.

However, this is not the worst-case scenario.

I have seen worse cases where the cost of going to university is too high, both in terms of time and money, and becomes a heavy sunk cost. People develop excessive expectations of their future income and excessive self-confidence. They have high expectations but low ability, which leads to a situation where they look down on basic jobs but lack the ability and achievements to match their self-esteem. They become unable to do any jobs they feel are beneath them. These people not only exist but are quite numerous, and this is one of the side effects of the excessive increase in universities.

Ironically, these individuals are often those who are less gifted, those who become university students due to the widespread availability of university education. However, if a person is not particularly intelligent, they usually have excessive self-esteem. They do not want to see things as "I only went to university because the threshold was lowered" but rather believe that "I am a smart person or an intellectual." When there is such a misunderstanding, you can imagine what the result will be, and this is not uncommon.

As a result, going to university not only does not help them, but also harms them. Their aptitude may be more suitable for entering society early and working hard. However, university has created an unaffordable dream for them and distorted their thinking. In this situation, going to university makes them more difficult to adapt to society and less helpful. Going to university also makes them unable to become labor forces directly. This is not an improvement in the quality of citizens, but rather a decline in the quality of citizens.

Therefore, I am quite skeptical about the notion that expanding education can improve the quality of citizens. I am also very reserved about whether going to university is beneficial. I believe that everyone needs to have a specific skill, such as technical engineering, medical skills, or water and electricity, which can contribute to society. However, it seems that society is gradually developing into a situation where everyone has a degree, but not necessarily a specific skill. Having a degree is valued more than having specific skills, but is this really a good development?

From my point of view, Technical Intern Training, or "Ginou Jisshu" in Japanese is a way to create a better skillset fulfilment across the socity. Corporate should create a fair program to train staffs from the ground, not rely on University; in contrast, University should not expand and lower their qualification requirement to create "degree" for bad.

Is Going to University Really Beneficial?
MERCURY TECHNOLOGY SOLUTION, James Huang 13 September, 2023
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