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The value of higher education

Popularity 8Viewed 3390 times 2017-10-8 11:20 |Personal category:education|System category:Life

The value of higher education

I have been planning to write this for some time. But there is always something getting in the way. Mark this please: I am not writing to dish out suggestions about how you or any of us should live a life. The sole purpose of this piece of writing is to record my thoughts and to be used as reference in the future to examine my revolution of mentality.


My determination of writing this culminated when I bumped into an article titled as “Should Everyone Go to College?” I guess it is originally a speech given by a relatively authoritative researcher in the United States. He and his partner had done some researches with regard to the value of receiving higher education.


They both agree that holistically it is unquestionable that going to college can be a smart decision no matter on the level of the country or society.  But they cast doubts on the individual decision of attending a university by citing a great deal of data from seemingly reliable sources. Based on the proof they have provided, apparent is that it may not be worthwhile for some individuals to go to college at all. Because the financial return can be seriously influenced by the type of university they go to (public or private; with or without student loan), the major they choose, the time they need to graduate and the career they embark on. ( For more information on this article, please check it online. I find it rather interesting as well as enlightening.)


After reading it more than one time, it fails to convince me to buy what the authors are trying to sell. Building the whole research on purely economic ground is far from enough to make the content reasonable and solid and therefore not so believable. But I have to admit that they excelled in arresting the public attention since in this exceedingly  materialistic era, all what the majority of the public care is how many financial benefits they can gain when making a decision, which in professional term in the field of economics is called ‘opportunity cost’.


Of course, they are not alone. I have encountered with quite a few news articles recently reporting the value of overseas education for Chinese students from similar angles.


It is self-evident that more and more Chinese students have been flooding into different countries to further their education so as to gain a great edge over their peers in China. But with the rapid improvement of Chinese tertiary education and the increasingly fierce competition among Chinese overseas returnees, many Chinese students with overseas education background gradually come to realize that the reality of job market is almost poles apart from what they have expected. A great number of them earn only as much as their peers graduating from Chinese universities. Naturally, this leads to doubts about the value of overseas education especially when we take all the sacrifices for it into consideration ( the astronomical amount of money, the homesick, the loneliness and the overwhelming stress etc.) Some people start regretting their decision of studying abroad.


I am as a matter of fact quite disappointed with the media as they invariably withhold important information in order to shape the public thinking towards a certain direction. Of course, it is more than plausible for us to care how much we can earn after a long and bumpy course of education. But what we should bear in mind is that money only plays a part in the picture. One of significant reasons why the returnees struggle to find an ideal job can be simply that the economy is not quite recovered from the recession. Of course, some of these people hold false hope for what is in store for them due to various reasons.


Other than the aforementioned, we should not ignore the fact that the filed we are working in may be lukewarm now, but it is very likely that it will become robust and strong in the near future. Future always holds many surprises for us which we can never tell whether they are good or bad until they happen.  We can't jump to the conclusion that it's not worthwhile to study abroad or to receive higher education at all just because the job market seems bleak now.


There are some other important benefits rendered by higher education are omitted here. On a general level, people with university education tend to enjoy higher social status. Aside from that, they are inclined to be more confident since they have gained professional knowledge with depth in a certain field. This enables them to deploy information asymmetry to their benefits. Well- educated people are also generally  less susceptible to all sorts of straps online or in physical world. To many people, quality higher education plays an essential role in their pursuit of dream or in realizing their potential. Another benefit usually ignored by the public is that well-educated parents to some extent provide better parenting for their next generation. ( These are just my subjective ideas. I should have cited researches to back up these. But, that will be too time-consuming.)


Doubtless, these benefits are all intangible and extremely difficult to evaluate. People love tangible stuff and figures better since they seem to be solid and believable. This is probably why these not so visible merits are usually not mentioned by the media.


However, it is wrong to take it for granted that being well educated guarantees securing a decent job and living a good life. Honestly and personally, it doesn't promise anything. Well-educated white collars in some developed countries have already realized that like their blue collar workers in the last century, they are very likely to be laid off in an economic downturn.  And it is getting increasingly difficult for them to keep their positions for a very long time. (I get these ideas from another article called ‘The Futile Pursuit of American Dream’)


After the 2008 economic crisis, many well-educated white collar workers in the United States became unemployed because when their companies planned to cut the operating cost, they with their high payment easily became the most obvious targets. Many others were constantly afraid of being laid off. They were and probably still are not living the great life the public usually picture for them-a life with big house, more than one cars and regular holiday in and out their country. So I suppose it isn't right to expect you will work a decent job forever and meanwhile gradually climb up the social ladder.


I am afraid that this is going to happen to China soon. People in China are all celebrating the rapid economic advancement. It is indeed very impressive. But the competition in nearly every field is getting more and more intense. Everything here changes so fast that I constantly have to adjust myself to get used to them. Working in a private company for almost three years, I can clearly sense how fast things change. The company I work for owned an enormous market share of the international education application even about five years ago. But with this market becoming more fragmented, it becomes increasingly difficult for it to reach to its potential customers. With more and more money invested in marketing online and offline, the gained profit becomes far less.


To handle the cutting- throat competition they face, they keep coming up with  new policies and new market strategies which we usually have to struggle to adapt to. What is worse is that when the operating cost keeps climbing, they exhaust all sorts of ways to squeeze more profits out such as reducing the number of employees they should hire or issuing policies to make all the employees themselves bear part of the operating costs.


After talking with a few friends, I believe my company is not alone in this battle. I guess this is the transform that a lot of Chinese companies have to undergo now.


I once said in class that I think it's highly likely that I will lose my job in the future thanks to the development of artificial intelligence. I mean with big database, they can invent robots who can speak different languages with various accents and more accuracy. Who wouldn't like that sort of robot? I would like to have one to help me master foreign languages instead of going to a school or a training center to have traditional lessons.


Life is random. Future is unpredictable. Even if I get laid off one day, I won't be surprised. Even if that's the case, I don't and won't regret my decision of receiving higher education and studying abroad because it helps me find peace in the hustle and bustle of this world.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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Comment Comment (10 comments)

Reply Report Jaaja 2017-10-8 15:15
First of all in many western countries the definition of college has widened to include colleges for hair dressers and photographers, if not janitors. That's one way of getting to say everyone should go to college.

With real university education, China is a country where employers still look look primarily on academic records. Foreigners see and feel this too, with academic requirements that bear little significance to the content of the work that most here do - and now I refer to English teachers obviously.

The problem will be even bigger in China than elsewhere.

First of course the population is so big that even in small industries the absolute numbers will be large.

Secondly, Chinese education lags behind in preparing students to changing world and work. In many western countries, this kind of structural change started to happen generation or two ago already, and education has had time to respond. Students who are to succeed, must be educated to think for themselves and be creative, both in content of their work and importantly also in finding the work to begin with. Failing to do that, they may only find work that will eventually be done by robots.

Thirdly, Chinese system is not ideal in promoting that kind of creativity - the government is too eager to dictate limits on how one should think or act. As that kind of individual qualities become more decisive in making succesfull careers (and not necessarily lifetime for one employer), the individuals who posses such qualities in greater abundance than the Chinese state allows to flourish, will migrate to bloom somewhere else.
Reply Report Igo 2017-10-9 01:08
I come here to try to find certain "Strine" English terminology.
Reply Report HailChina! 2017-10-9 02:59
Igo: I come here to try to find certain "Strine" English terminology.
Gday mate. I just googled the word strine.
Reply Report Swifty55 2017-10-9 12:59
Most Chinese attend colleges and Unversitys in other countries that  are actually worse then the Top 10 Universitys in China.
Reply Report twa 2017-10-9 15:44
college aint all that
Reply Report Igo 2017-10-10 07:43
HailChina!: Gday mate. I just googled the word strine.
Good day, good day! Ha! Could you sound more sarcastic please? Thanks buddy.
Reply Report Liononthehunt 2017-11-4 19:29
Jaaja: First of all in many western countries the definition of college has widened to include colleges for hair dressers and photographers, if not janitors. ...
Like you know China very well...

Decades before, only the elite students or scholars in China could go abroad for study or academic exchange programs, and those cream of the crop in China also stood out among their counterparts in the west, and in many western research institutes that are open to expatriate researchers, Chinese fellows make up disproportionately high percentages of the staff.

Things are vastly different now, with the access to western education institutes for the Chinese people becoming much easier to attain in terms of academic qualifications and affordability. A lot of young kids even go to the UK, USA at a tender age for education starting from primary school.

Interestingly, being trained under the western pedagogical regime, the excellent still remain excellent even compared with the westerners, while the average ones generally rarely show any signs of significant improvement on their intellectual faculty, and they usually have no remarkable advantages  in their career endeavor over their peers receiving education in China when they get back to work, most likely with foreign companies.

So I am utterly unconvinced about your remarks, as I see little substance to your rhetoric.
Reply Report Jaaja 2017-11-4 23:44
Liononthehunt: Like you know China very well...

Decades before, only the elite students or scholars in China could go abroad for study or academic exchange programs ...
Liononthehunt, you didn't even understand my point so save your defensive attitude.
Reply Report Liononthehunt 2017-11-5 10:44
Jaaja: Liononthehunt, you didn't even understand my point so save your defensive attitude.
I see clearly what you are up to, so pack your rant up ...
Reply Report tradervic 2018-1-1 01:28
Hm... now this a topic that will come up time and time again - whether myself, , or others...

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