“If you think that this university is expensive, try ignorance”
– Derek Bok, president of Harvard University.
In order to see the origins of universities, we need to search quite far back in the history of man kind. In fact, the first university established in Europe alone, was in 1088 in Bologna, followed by the prestigious Oxford University, established in the United Kingdom. Thirdly we had the University of Salamanca in Spain, and from that point on the list has just kept on growing to this day. Universities were officially here to stay.
The beauty of a university is its eternity. All the universities mentioned above, for example, are actually still existing to this day. Universities have lived throughout history and have adapted to it, and there are even ones that define cities, as well as cities that are built around universities. The word “university” actually comes from Latin, and means “a whole”, stemming from the word “universal”.
If we rewind the history, universities used to be for those privileged enough, and eager for a place in which they could study and share knowledge. It was highly exclusive, and more of a social club. I think today, however, we face a whole different reality. As a student, I sometimes wonder why I have chosen to study at a university. Some of us are grateful, but some of us hate it. After all, it is very rare to find somebody smiling in the library; and even rarer to find a group of people, freely chatting a subject, just for pleasure.
Universities used to be considered a pleasure activity for those people who attended. What is a university now, though? If I had a child, I would likely tell my child to study at a university, so that he or she could get a respectable job afterwards. But with this vision in mind we are chasing jobs, we are not chasing knowledge. I am afraid to say that the concept of the, once very respectable, universities has been diminished to having some letters on a paper certificate that assures any future employer that the candidate is following the life guidance.
(…) with this vision in mind we are chasing jobs, we are not chasing knowledge.
I do not believe universities had exams in the first centuries of their existence, as exams came to rank people in a standardized way. So to what extent do grades matter?
We study at a university in order to get a job in the future, but we have also reached the point where simply having a university degree is no longer enough; students are also asked to have practical experience. It makes sense that theory must be side by side with practice, but really, why not only practice?
Imagine if you were to do 1 week of a strictly theoretical seminar about how to sell a product, versus if you were a trainee in a company and practised how to sell during that one week instead. I believe the second scenario would be much more effective. The bottom line is that you will know how to negotiate with a Chinese party only after you have experienced it at least once. And, surely, nobody could ever think that Bezos learnt how to create Amazon simply by reading books.
The bottom line is that you will know how to negotiate with a Chinese party only after you have experienced it at least once. And, surely, nobody could ever think that Bezos learnt how to create Amazon simply by reading books.
Universities are eternal, but it adapts to history. Going back to the quote by Bok, universities might have become a source of revenue in some cases. In many other cases, however, they are merely an excuse to postpone adulthood, by choosing to be a student instead. In the worst case scenario, young people get to show their conformity to society by receiving a diploma. From what I see, we go to a university because we are expected to. We no longer choose it to fulfill the function for which the concept “university” was originally created; a place for the sharing of knowledge.