Or perhaps I should have titled it “Waste of a few good years?”. I’m not saying it is, hence the question mark, but I do wonder.
I suppose when you boil it down it comes down to the question of whether a good education is, in itself, worth the extra years you spend “in the wilderness” (from a work/life viewpoint)? If you are blessed with extremely solid family finances or a ‘family firm’, i.e. no real need for you to work for a living, then fine, enjoy yourself. If you intend to go on and teach the subject you’re studying, then obviously the higher education the better. Those two points, however, probably only apply to considerably less than 1% of people entering higher education. The remainder, in my mind, are probably only doing it because either; they think a higher education will give them an advantage over others competing for jobs or because of peer/family pressure. Given that I don’t consider peer/family pressure a good reason to do anything you don’t yourself want to and given that I don’t believe having a master’s degree does give you much of an advantage in the job market (because everybody’s got one), I have to wonder whether it is therefore just a waste of what should be some of your most productive and useful years in the outside world? Or is being well educated something people want to do here, just for the hell of it?
From the viewpoint of this particular employer, I’d far rather see a candidate who has a matura, 5 years relevant work experience and is making his/her own way in life than one who has a totally irrelevant master’s degree (most of them are), zero work experience beyond making the coffee in their uncle’s firm and who is still having his/her mum do the laundry. But then I’m sometimes a bit of a philistine when it comes to matters of higher education, so perhaps I’m missing the point? For me, the years you spend getting it should have a payback that goes beyond being able to make educated comments on a blog post, or whatever, and in the final analysis, when you look back over your life, allow you to honestly say that getting that master’s or doctorate was the very best use of those 3-6 years of your life and not just something you drifted into because you couldn’t think of anything better to do. I’m just concerned that a high percentage of people in Poland (and elsewhere) will not be able to say that. Perhaps it doesn’t worry them as much as it would worry me?
As I see it, you have three options; leave school after the first exams when you’re 16 (O level equivalent?), leave after matura (slightly better than A level?), aged 19, or go on to get a higher education and leave when you’re what, mid 20’s? I’m not even sure if the first option is an option here in Poland. I’ve certainly never met anyone who did leave school at 16 and those exams are so little talked about (other than as a step towards the all-powerful matura) that I’m assuming they are about as useful in the big wide world as a certificate for 50m breaststroke. The matura seems to be by far the most important and as far as I can tell, is the watershed between someone being ‘educated’ and ‘uneducated’. This is quite different to the UK in my school days where ‘O’ levels, at age 16, were really the equivalent of the matura, in terms of defining ‘educated’. If you got yourself a set of reasonably good ‘O’ levels you were in a good position to decide whether to start work or to go on to ‘A’ levels, the rough equivalent of matura in terms of knowledge and tough exams, at age 18. After ‘A’ levels, in my opinion, there was more pressure to start work in the UK than there was to go on to university, unless the profession you had decided you liked was one that particularly demanded a higher education – medical, legal and other professions. Here in Poland, today, I suspect it is the other way around. More pressure to get a master’s degree than to go to work?
Poland must be right up there in terms of the number of people with a higher education. If nothing else, the depth of knowledge displayed in the comments we receive here on Polandian is a good indication of a relatively well educated country. Reading through the comments on the post below, it might be reasonable to assume that quite a few people chose history as their subject! Companies are attracted to Poland because of its strong supply of well educated people (and then give them jobs in call centres!). This is all well and good. No doubt in my mind that, generally speaking, one can have a far better class of educated theoretical debate here in Poland than you can in the UK, but I can’t help wondering if that comes at a cost. The cost being generations of Poles who live so long in the molly-coddled environments of home and university that they are not ready to make real progress in the “outside world” until they are staring their 30th birthday in the face. Quite a few years behind similar generations from other European countries.