Third level study is over-rated

There’s an observation that if you want your kids to succeed in business you should send them out selling papers when they are fourteen.

Not a word there about teaching them to add or subtract – the implication is that they won’t be long learning if they get stung a couple of times.

Yes, I know the studies show a correlation between education and success. And a more damning correlation between no education and failure.

But still I’m not convinced. I tend to believe that many of the people who do well out of education would do well anyway. They hail from the middle and upper strata of society which are well clued into the ways of the world.

Recently I interviewed Pat Delaney of the Small Firms Association and he was making the point about how graduates start out in big companies and then migrate to smaller outfits.

This process happens as the graduate tries to broaden their role and then rejects the narrow confines of their qualification.

Very many graduates leave their professions within five to ten years of leaving college (I’d like to know exactly how many but I can’t find the stats).

I am an engineer by trade. I spent five years in college, one year in work experience and three years working in a factory. Then I walked away from it. Just wasn’t my cup of tea.

I think the Pareto curve operates here. 80% of what you need comes from 20% of what you learned (and I think those percentages are fairly generous). The rest is pretty much a waste of time.

The way I see it is that Third Level education sacrifices a broad education for a detailed education. This is wrong.

So what would I do about it?

Firstly, I would dismantle vertically integrated courses. No more two, three and four year courses. Instead I would divide all of first year education into, say, ten basic courses, in similar fashion to the Dewey system.

At the end of the course, the student would receive a qualification which would be completely portable. It could stand alone or it could be used to go on to a second year course which would be more specialised. The second year qualification could suffice or be carried on. And so on.

The exams for each course would be published at the start of each course. The exams would not be time limited and independent exam centres would offer exams in each course on an everyday basis so that students could take an exam on any day they wished. Students would not have to attend a course in order to take an exam. Students who failed an exam yesterday could take it again today.

The academic year would be reduced to six months and colleges would be permanently open – there is no justification in spending hundreds of million euro to build a facility and then shut it down for four months of the year. (This also applies to lecturers, if you get my drift).

The effect of all this is to put the student at the centre of the education system and to introduce the flexibility that works in everyday life.

Some chance.