Education: What Good is Academia?

As I wade through the endless words of academia online a thought occurred. What is the point of all of this intellectualism? For every article, academic journal and thought provoking collaboration, for every international exchange, in order to bridge cultures and ‘understand’ ourselves better (thus completing the chain of command in changing the world) hardly any of it has mattered or made much of a difference. We still have dictators, civil wars, conflicts, domestic violence, fraud and terrorism. Not to mention Cancer and other still untreatable/incurable maladies.

To apply for a course or a job nowadays one must create a ‘profile’ and submit docs, transcripts and God knows what else. Ok, a university of note wants decent candidates (as students or employees) that I can appreciate but can we really tell who is worthy from a grade on a certificate? It’s like judging someone by the colour of their hair or name or the proverbial book by its cover.

Recently at a meeting with a university I was asked for papers or examples of published papers which got me thinking… Does every academic have to do this? Is it a compulsory requirement that one not only teach but have published award winning essays – Who cares? Likewise with transcripts, are they really necessary? My former university (in Wales) handed mine to me with my certificate on graduation 20 years ago and though they told me I couldn’t get another set, they didn’t tell me what I might need them for either. Almost as useful as the course I had then completed.

Hence I am somewhat reluctant to do a masters degree. It is becoming necessary to have one in order to climb the academic ladder (even in China) but the expense it will cost to do it doesn’t equate to salaries once completed so why bother? Purely for aesthetic enlightenment? A sense of self-worth? All as noble as the teacher is portrayed. Sadly the reality is that for every interesting course out there, there isn’t one I really want to do and on top of that I have zero interest in forcing a thesis in order to gain the coveted prize or dream ticket to the rest of my working days, however long that may be.

So I then asked myself the question: Is there no simpler path to academic wealth? Or is that the point, it has to be purposely difficult in order to enshrine the notion that you have proven yourself. You may now grow a long white beard and stand egalitarian much like Confucius. A statue for people to clamber on, do a dance, play cards on and have their picture taken with all without much thought for who that person was or why they are there.

The other option is that I walk backwards; pick a university of ill repute in a smaller town but I’ve already been there and neither the centre in question; a college calling itself a university or its assembled personnel were to my liking, though most of my students were and remain great. I feel sorry for them – another two years’ of hard graft in front of them and right there we see the value of how hard one must study in China just to get a foothold on a half decent education and the career that one hopes follows it. Rest assured whatever awaits me, it isn’t likely to be an honorary degree and even if it was, would I not just be another ‘name’ receiving it?

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