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Elizabeth Davies attends a graduation ceremony, says university's great but not the be all and end all

Elizabeth Davies attends a graduation ceremony, says university's great but not the be all and end all

By Elizabeth Davies

This week I was lucky enough to witness my partner graduate from AUT with a bachelor of electrical engineering.

To say I was proud is probably an understatement, in fact I probably bordered on embarrassing him.

There’s something about the bagpipes, the regalia, the emotional parents, the screaming children, and the scantily clad graduates that makes graduation an invaluable life experience.

I was all geared up for the inspirational opening speech, the kind I remember from my own graduation ceremony.

However things seem to have changed in the last few years.

I fondly remember my grad speech. The speaker quoted Invictus and left us all feeling warm and fuzzy about our bright, educated futures. We were told just how much we had grown as people by pursuing tertiary education.

We would go on to do brilliant things, master our fates, inspire others, and make our parents proud.

Things at this graduation ceremony were a little different. Instead of quoting inspirational poetry about succeeding against all odds the speaker quoted OECD statistics to assure graduates that their money was well spent.

According to this heartfelt speech university graduates are less likely to drink in excess, take drugs, commit crime, or become obese. University graduates are apparently more likely to make education a top priority for their own children, and in general they make for happier, shinier people.

The speech, while coming from a good place, seemed a little bit strange. I had to double check if I was sitting in the Aotea centre or some kind of military recruitment office. I wanted to stand up and ask who she was trying to convince, the fees are paid, the degrees are complete, surely, you’re preaching to the choir.

I couldn’t help but feel a little bit sad and almost guilty. I wanted to take some of these fresh faced graduates and warn them.

It’s not that easy, university isn’t a connect the dots recipe to guaranteed success. You don’t walk out of that graduation ceremony and straight into your dream job.

Sure some people are lucky enough to get straight down to business, but for the rest of us it can take a little longer, or it can be a case of realising that our qualification isn’t actually the direction we ultimately want to go in.

In no way am I saying that university is a waste of time. I loved university, I think it’s an amazing and hugely beneficial experience.

On the other hand I think it’s deceptive to tell people that a university degree will make you a happier, better person. In fact depression and anxiety disorders occur more frequently in well educated people. High earning executives often have weight problems and over indulge in alcohol at long work lunches, or to ease the stress of a high pressured working environment.

I genuinely don’t think you can generalise about quality of life entirely on education. Personal happiness is exactly that, personal.

Every individual is responsible for making themselves happy, and keeping themselves that way.

Your degree is not a guarantee, if young New Zealanders are learning anything it’s that job entitlement is a thing of the past.

For young aspirational graduates now is not a time for rest and relief, it’s a time to push harder than ever before.


Elizabeth Davies is a 24 year-old graduate of the Auckland University of Technology post graduate journalism course. She writes a weekly article for on money matters and financial struggles from a young person's perspective.

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There are too many useless degrees, that is why. Your partner has a useful degree.

Data from TEC suggests that around 60% freshmen have been enrolling in BA courses, 30% in BCA course, and less than 10% in math/computer/medicine/chemistry/physics courses for the past many years.
So, you figure ~~~~

BA - means bugger all. In the chemistry toilets in 1980, there was graffiti next to a loo roll dispenser. It said - 'BA, please take one.'
Arts degrees are not really needed these days. 
We need fewer degrees but universities have not evolved efficiently in 100 years. They are still doing the same courses. The growth has come in low grade degrees so people can say, oh look I have a degree.
Invest more in sciences/medicine/engineering/economics etc and cut the Arts departments to a shread of what they currently are. These have become interest degrees only.

Try getting a job with a physics, chemistry or biology degree!
Most end up working in entirely unrelated fields unless they get into education.
Studying history, art history, classics etc etc will give you almost as many skills.
I studied physics, was top on my class at Canterbury, and I can assure you that there are very few jobs where knowing the flavor of a quark, what a Hamiltonian is or calculating the wavefunction are requirements...
Being able to meet deadlines, analyse information critically and communicate ideas is far more important.
A balance of knowledge is more beneficial.

I have had numerous jobs with my chemistry degrees ranging from R&D (I got a patent doing this), QA and now I am a sales manager for a chemical company. I was a B student only, nowhere near top of the class.
I found my chemical knowledge was much more important than a balance of knowledge.
BTW, science teaches analytical skills, while communication & timekeeping are life skills, you do not need a degree to do these as much.
If you took physics did you not know that there were limited opportunities in NZ? Most physicists I knew at Uni worked overseas for quite awhile. To me that is not knowing your market and possibly lacking common sense? These are not things you need a degree for either.

The biggest plus to doing university education is that the courses stay the same.
The knowledge they teach for "hard" degrees doesn't change.  I do maths or engineering, chemistry , physics then the universe isn't going to change.

Unlike my polytech courses, where the Ucol and NZQA  decided to rewrite their sylabus and try to make me pay again for all the modules I'd completed - and refused me entry into the new versions until I paid all over again (several thousands of dollars) to have "my progress re-assessed").  

Even core principles or marketing and finance don't change - although corrections do occur which is easy enough to include.

What is the worst is you end up with "pick'n'mix" menu like at the polytechs now, with a bunch of very similar degrees/certificates  with only a couple of papers difference "tailored for the local job market".   Yeah F Right.  It's all just a ploy to sell more seats, reap more income.

It would be the saddest thing in the world if our independent research institutions continued to degrade their purpose to sell more paper degrees.

Universities are also places where you're taught how to think and how to get on in life, independently.
Where you establish a network or friends
It's not just about getting the degree (although that's a huge chunk of it obviously).
A degree in journalism is useful, we need investigative reporters in New Zealand. Most of the MSM is lazy and biased.
Or, have a look at what Linkedin came up before choosing a degree?
Also, if you think about those BAs who came out of Uni, and infiltrated in the current job market especially in managerial positions, and the downstream effects.

The thing is not to look at what's hot today, but whats going to be hot in the future.  But then ppl who only see the $s do only seem to think short term.
Oh yipp dee doo doo.
a) None of it runs without good electrical engineers behind it, not one job there, zilch, zero, nada.
b) Feckle, this years hot job is next years over-supply has beens. Jave a decade ago was the job to have (or top 3) now its no10. Virtualisation now no25, yet its one of the key ones, over-supply I expect. One of the other top 3 was cisco networking, not even on the top 25 now.  One of the others was storage, holding up, yet if you look at the cloud, I wonder. 
c) A goodtechnical degree and especially an electrical one opens doors in all sorts of directions. 
d) You do the degree you have a passion about, not the pay.
e) Electrical power is going to become one of the most important jobs/skill sets in the future to have as we swicth away from fossil fuels to electrical power.  He wont starve see b).
Not sure why economics is No18, no one wants to actually listen to economists unless they are saying what ppl want to hear.  Seems my jobs have slipped a bit.

Modern graduation is increasingly about buying a degree, not about pursuing a higher education.

Love Invinctus.

One most memoriable quotes using that I have seen:
"Due to circumstances beyond my control,
I am master of my fate,
and captain of my soul."

words to love by.

Absolutely.  Only losers would burden themselves with student debt, studying for a degree, working for a living or heaven forbid, paying tax.
Winners would have spent the time spent that time leveraging other peoples money to become property "investors", by far the most valuable members of society.

The thing is a university degree opens,
a) your horizons, help you look outward at the world, rather than inwards.
b) I think helps you open your mind, to research, think logically, reason, plan and even defend that against the ignorant, and dogmatic who would do you ill and take advantage.
c) You and your children will benefit.
So I do think that a good degree would tend to make you a better person.
It is also an excellent degree to have IMHO, congrats to him on that and you for supporting him.

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