I recently got invited to a debate on the future of work. The topic for the debate was, “Are students of today educating themselves into a life of unemployment?”

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The panel composed of 4 guests, 2 for and 2 against the motion. We had academics, business people and lots of students at the event. It was an interesting debate and we had many good arguments brought forward from both sides.

The panel against education raised some interesting points about robots, technology and AI. The noted how human jobs will be replaced by machines within the next 20 years making the professions of law, accountancy and engineering obsolete.

My University Experience

I will leave the discussion on AI for another blog. Here, I would like to focus on pros and cons of education.

When I first received the invite, I knew what side of the debate I would be on. What a waste of money and time, I thought. Given that there are so many great job opportunities available for people that don’t require ‘a piece of paper’, it is quite evident that degrees are simply not worth it.

Then I went down memory lane and reminisced about my student days, thinking about what value my degree had added to my life and career (note, I mentioned life first)

I had actually never wanted to go to University. I was one of those “practical idiots” who wanted to go out into the world and do stuff. Studying while locked away in the library wasn’t my best forte.

My parents thought otherwise and off to University I went. I figured that if I had to spend 3 years of my life there then I might as well make the most of it. I studied and got a degree in the hopes of getting a job. One that would help me pay off the debt that I had incurred to get the degree. Can you see the irony?

But the degree isn’t just a piece of paper. You get plenty of good experiences and practical skills that can help you out. They build a character for students which can give them an edge over robots, making them far better employees.

Environment

For most people, University is their first chance to go out into the world on their own. They see new people, culture and exposed to new people from all walks of life.

At the University you will find international students from around the world and geeks and nerds from the engineering faculty. You will find the arty farty, the sporty spicy, the druggies, the politicized and the protesters who protest almost anything. It is a diverse and challenging environment. It helps you gain valuable insights about people that you will meet in real life.

Perhaps we will add robots into the mix for University students in the future? Why not. Students today learn so much about other people and subcultures within their communities during University life that it makes perfect sense to add robots to the learning experience.

Can you imagine what it would feel like competing with a robot in sports? Or a chess competition for that matter? You could not possibly prepare a student for the future better than that.

Networking

Your University is the best place to network with people from different walks of life. There are plenty of clubs and societies where you can become a member. No matter what your hobbies are, you can always find a bunch of people with similar interests and develop long-term friendships.

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You will learn how to pitch for sponsorship money, make presentations in front of a full audience and how to put forward a great argument for extension on assignment submission.

I was personally involved with some volunteer work for my University, which led them to sponsor me for the International Congress conference in Sweden and Finland.

Try New Things

I spent a lot time in Admissions chopping and changing subjects for my degree before the cut off deadline. It gave me time to think about what I wanted to do, bring two unrelated subjects together or take classes I wouldn’t normally be required to take for my degree.

You do not have to be fit in a specific box. Just because you are a student of finance does not mean you cannot benefit from taking a few classes in computer technology and IT. Take the emerging industries of Fintech and Agritech, a combination of two separate fields of education. At the University you can try different things out.

Critical Thinking

A university education gives you skills that you would find difficult to learn elsewhere. Research methods, problems analysis and critical thinking are three lifelong skills that I learned at my Uni.

These skills can be applied to any field be it engineering, business development, arts, human behaviour or social interaction. These are behavioural skills that can give you an edge over people who don’t have these skills.

Being more analytical and critical in your thinking can make well rounded to handle different situations and problems in life. Robots, no matter how good they become, will be incapable to think emotionally for themselves. This is something that makes humans unique and better employees than AI powered machines.

Discover Who You Are

I got my degree in Adelaide, South Australia which is so small that home was a 20 min bus ride from Uni. I could always go home to mammas cooked meals, washing and all the other great things she did for me that enabled me to focus on study.

The support allowed me to have loads of extra circular activities and hold down a casual job which I desperately needed. I mean how else would I pay for all those taco and tequila, stoplight, pizza and beer parties?

I think in the UK you get even more opportunity to discover who you are as you tend to leave home and spend time on campus and have to fend for yourself.

A University education helps you get emotional intelligence that cannot be gained by reading a book or by a robot. You learn how to deal with different social engagements, different people and situations. It is more than just ‘a piece of paper’ in the end. Although, if I could have a robot to feel the pain of a hangover after the parties – that would’ve been awesome.

So in summary, yes. A University education can give you the experiences, emotional intelligence, social connections and life lessons that will make you a well rounded person. Will students of future be able to compete with robots? Perhaps not in computational or mechanical power. But they will be certainly better in areas that make us human. This is why I repeatedly suggest that we should change the University programs to make our students well rounded rather than just technically proficient.

Do you agree or disagree? Share your opinions in the comments to let us know why.