What is Higher Education and why am I doing it?

By Sarah Chisnall Aug 15, 2019
So what is higher education and what purpose does it serve? Throughout school, we hear a great deal about university as higher education and how it will help you secure your future. But why is this and is it true?  Getting into higher education is pretty straightforward. For those choosing university, a clear path is laid out: do well in your GCSEs, A-Levels, UCAS Applications, then on results day either go to your top choice or go through clearing.  This generation has the largest number of people attending university than ever before. Fights for equality has meant that members of minority groups have been able to get into higher education. Gone are the days when higher education was an exclusive club for rich white men.   However, the cost of universities has also shot up. Attending higher education for 3 years can land you in over £50,000 of debt. Schools are perceived to be successful if a large portion of their students progresses to university. This has led to a significant bias in the way that many schools promote after-school options. 

What Else Is Counted As Higher Education?

University may be the most dominant form of higher education but it isn’t the only one. Higher education is obtaining a qualification above A-levels. These can be:
  • Foundation Degree (FdA)
  • Higher National Certificate and Diploma (HNC/HND)
  • Certificate of Continuing Education (CertCE)
  • Certificate and Diploma of Higher Education (CertHE/DipHE)
  • Bachelor’s Degree (BA/BSci)
  • Master’s Degree
  • Postgraduate Certificate and Diploma (PGCert/PGDip)
  • Doctorate (PhD)
(A useful summary of these can be found on the success at school website) There are ways you can get these qualifications without attending university. You can also get a degree by doing a degree apprenticeship, which allows you to be working and earning a wage, whilst studying. Some colleges also offer undergrad degrees too, though they will most likely cost the same as university tuition fees. Studying online is now also available through institutions such as the Open University. So the answer to the question ‘what is higher education?’ can be a number of things, but in summary, it means education beyond A Levels.

Why Am I Doing Higher Education?

An important part of defining higher education is exploring its reasons for existing. To do that, you should be asking why should you do higher education, alongside what is higher education. There are a number of reasons why most people choose to go to university to complete their higher education. Choosing to go to university is a massive decision that many young people have to make, and it’s not uncommon to feel like it is the only option available after completing A-levels. Therefore, when exploring what higher education is and what it means to you, it is important to explore the reasons why you might choose to do it.

‘To Increase My Earning Potential’

A big reason why many people choose to go to university is because they believe that having a degree will mean they can earn more. This may well have been true in the past, however, there are many ways to increase earning potential and higher education is certainly not the only one. There are many factors to consider in terms of earning potential and what its relationship is with higher education. In terms of starting out, graduate salaries are generally higher than those of people just starting out.  However, when speaking in terms of earning potential, those who don’t get degrees and go straight into work are just as capable of working their ways up, becoming successful and earning the big bucks. In fact, when speaking in terms of money, it can be argued that doing an alternative form of higher education, such as completing a degree apprenticeship is the best way to maximise your earning potential. Because you learn on the job, you can gain more work experience than if you were studying full time at university. Earning potential can also depend on what subject you choose to study. The Telegraph just published an article that shows which degrees are the highest-earning.

‘To Have The ‘University Experience’’

How many times have you been told that university will be the best years of your life? For many people who choose to attend university, this might be true. However, it is important to understand that this is not guaranteed.  The idea that you might be missing out by not going to university is completely understandable, however, we’re about to uncover a well-kept secret… You can do all the things people do at university, without going to university. You don’t need to attend university to experience a night out, living independently, joining societies and pulling all-nighters. These are all things you’ll find you’re able to do without higher education. What is different about higher education and the experience it offers is that it places you amongst many other people the same age as you and offers a slightly more sheltered introduction to living independently. The social life at university is undeniably great and it’s hard to recreate the university lifestyle anywhere else.  Having the ‘university experience’ is not something you must have. Not everybody has the best years of their life at uni. But it is a unique and often fantastic experience.

‘I Need A Degree For The Job I Want’

When the question ‘what is higher education?’ was first answered for you, it might have been presented as something guaranteed in your future. Something that you will do rather than might do.   Schools are perceived to be successful if a large portion of their students progresses to university. This has led to a significant bias in the way that many schools promote after-school options. It also means that when you decide what job you might want, you may be under the impression that you need to get a degree to do it. In some situations, this is undoubtedly true. Working in medicine or law, for example, needs qualifications. However, there are alternatives becoming available. You can now become a nurse through an apprenticeship. Ultimately, getting a degree related to the kind of job you want will help you in getting there. But it’s not the only way of getting most jobs.

So What Is Higher Education And Why Am I Doing It?

In summary, higher education is usually gained through going to university. However now, more than ever, it can also mean other things: degree apprenticeships, college, online courses.  Gone are the days when higher education solely meant attending university for a minimum of three years and coming back with an expensive piece of paper. It means gaining more knowledge and experience, increasing your chances of landing a great job and allowing you to become independent. Whatever the reasons are for doing higher education, the most important thing to remember is this: make the most of it.

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