The System Was Built To Keep Us In Debt – Part 2

Student Loans

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It wasn’t too long ago that I graduated from university and whilst I appreciate the excellent work that most lecturers do and that my alma mater was stellar in what it provided to its students, the fact still remains that going to university doesn’t guarantee a bright future.  As a matter of fact, it is criminal how so many jobs demand that you have the minimum of a Bachelor’s degree when that is never enough for you to find an entry level job in your field. Therefore, you are faced with the prospect of either racking up even more debt in order to secure your Masters or working in jobs that could be acquired with a high school diploma. It is also unfair that after 3 – 4 years of arduous studying (for those that even bothered to study hard), in exchange for the piece of paper that validates that we are degree-holders, we are awarded with a debt so big that it’s enough to initiate a start-up business. However, the most cruel joke of all is the fact that many before and after us have proven that you don’t need a degree to be extremely successful. All you need is a dream, what you nurture is your talent and combine that with the tenacity to fight through failures, the will to not concede defeat and some business acumen and you can actually earn thousands in income rather than generate the same in student debt. People may read this and think that only prodigies or the obviously talented are the ones that have such success stories. This is not the case. The problem is that very few care to discover their true potential, let alone be brave enough to tap into it to the extent that it becomes an avenue for income. In this article: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-1301921/Weve-gone-degree-Why-university-longer-passport-success.html there is a celebrity journalist who started to earn £18k only four months after taking a ten-week course in Journalism. There is also a 20-year old mentioned who is currently earning £22k although he only has a diploma in business and an A level in English. These and all the other stories appear to be modest cases of success in comparison to the likes of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg who are currently earning billions despite being university/college drop-outs. However, what both stories have in common are that NONE of these individuals have student debt.

Is University A Con?

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Considering the number of people who find jobs that are completely unrelated to their degree or find themselves in odd, random jobs after university, it begs the question as to whether or not going to university is just an over-rehearsed rhetoric? If you ask a child what they’d like to be in the future, the answer will most likely be ‘lawyer’ or ‘doctor’. This way of thinking is not only unimaginative but it also ignores the fact that everyone is NOT academically inclined and there are other ways of being a success without having half the emotional and work-related grief of lawyers and doctors. Studying at university is a very expensive undertaking. The debt acquired afterwards doesn’t justify the often humiliating experience of scrambling for jobs which are always in short supply. Furthermore, it is too expensive a gamble to go to university in the hopes that you will eventually discover what you really want to do career-wise. It would be cheaper to go to a palm reader. However, with that being said, the system has been rigged to feed this vicious cycle of debt. Too many jobs are insisting that they want candidates with degrees which feeds into the whole idea that a degree is essential. There are many ways to acquire the relevant skills and experience in your field and since the constant slap in the face for recent graduates is that experience is required for the jobs they seek, then why isn’t the emphasis on this instead? Why isn’t the educational system programmed that if you want to learn a language, instead of labouring for hours in the classroom, you just spend all your semesters in the host country? Why aren’t there more apprenticeships, internships and vocational qualifications that are not only on par with university degrees but can substitute them in every career field? Why should you acquire so much debt from a government who ultimately expects you to reinvest your skills, talents and knowledge back into your country? A degree isn’t proof that a graduate has the common sense, intuitiveness or resourcefulness to do the job. At the very least, all it proves is that they can read and regurgitate what they’ve been taught. Therefore, for university students not engaged in technical fields, why don’t they have the option of doing all the relevant reading from home, each semester, and just show up to the exams on campus when required? Going to university works out brilliantly for those who can actually put their degree to good use. However, for those who don’t?

Big Business For The Government

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Regardless of what happens, one thing remains certain and that’s the fact that the government will always stand to benefit. Here is a very interesting and comprehensive article about the ins and outs of the student loans scheme in the UK (http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n05/andrew-mcgettigan/cash-today). In effect, students will bear the brunt of the financial catastrophe caused by greedy bankers through their liability to pay back student loans with interest. The government will attempt to repackage and sell these loans to third parties in exchange for ready cash (so that they can cover their current national debt) while the third parties will profit from the interest students pay. Have a look at the extracts below:

After the election, the coalition awarded the contract for the feasibility study to Rothschild. The higher education White Paper published in summer 2011 stated that the ‘full range of options’ would be considered, ‘including retaining the loans on the government’s books, selling them outright to financial investors, or selling loans to one or more regulated companies set up to manage the loans.’……. The main aims of a sale, from the government’s perspective, were to reduce its exposure to the risk of non-repayment, and to lower national debt.

We were told that the value for money of a sale would depend on a comparison of how much purchasers are willing to pay against an estimate of what the loans are worth……..

Higher education is devolved in the UK. The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills is responsible only for English universities and colleges. The administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have different policies on tuition fees. Scotland, for example, charges no fees to Scottish or EU students: those from the rest of the UK are charged £9000.

The figure put on the national debt is obtained by adding up the nation’s liabilities – money owed – and subtracting the value of the assets owned. The net amount is ‘public sector net debt’. The government borrows to create student loans, but the loan is an asset…….

Here is another article which speaks to the effects of student loans on American students (http://www.cnbc.com/2015/06/15/the-high-economic-and-social-costs-of-student-loan-debt.html) with the following extracts:

Men and women laboring under student debt “are postponing marriage, childbearing and home purchases, and…pretty evidently limiting the percentage of young people who start a business or try to do something entrepreneurial,” said Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue University and the former Republican governor of Indiana. “Every citizen and taxpayer should be concerned about it.

You wind up disadvantaged just as you begin. It has reduced the ability of our educational system to be a force for upward mobility, and for an equitable chance at upward mobility,” said Melinda Lewis, associate professor of the practice at the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare. “It is still true that you are better positioned if you go to college, but you are not as much better positioned if you have to go to college with debt.

There is also the matter of “credentialism,” the trend in many professions to screen for ever higher qualifications for jobs that may not require them. A 2014 study by Burning Glass, a labor analytics firm, found that 42 percent of management job holders had bachelor’s degrees, but 68 percent of job postings required them. In computer and mathematical jobs, 39 percent of employees had bachelor’s degrees, but 60 percent of job listings called for them.

Studying at university has become a commodity. While we rack up debt under the notion that our studies will somehow create a brighter future, the powers that be use our debt for either financial leverage or profit.

 Look out for the third and final part of this discussion. Don’t forget to share your views, give feedback or leave a comment.



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Student Woes. What it’s like for your child to be a university student today

It wasn’t too long ago that I was a student, looking at four years of endless lectures and seminars, innumerable assignments, a sustained penniless condition, abysmal group work, pending exams and grades that didn’t always compensate for the lack of social life, sleepless nights and boring class discussions. As soon as I started my first semester, I was already looking to finish university. This was mainly because I already got a taste of life after studying. Before committing to do my Bachelors, I was working a full time job, earning a decent full time wage, had no debt (so I could splurge on clothes and vacations whenever I wanted) and I was in charge of my destiny. So why did I become a student?

Long Term Vision

The day finally came when in that wonderful job of mine I wanted to move up the corporate ladder. Why should I expect any resistance? I had shown initiative more times than I could count, I was the first through the door and often the last to leave the office, my work was consistently of a high standard, I was articulate and I grasped new concepts exceptionally well. So what was the problem? I was not a degree holder. Therefore, I was facing the prospect of working twice as long as a recent graduate (in the way of years) just to be anywhere near being considered for a managerial post and that’s only if that post wasn’t explicitly advertised for degree holders. What made it worse, a colleague one day jokingly admitted that his degree had to do with studying medieval history such as that of King Arthur and his Knights at the round table. Furthermore, I came across managers that wholly lacked business acumen, people skills, leadership qualities and even work ethics. Needless to say, I felt insulted but I had to figure out what to do.

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Now let me quickly add a few disclaimers – this is not about bashing those who have their degree in one area and have decided to branch into another unrelated field and this is neither saying that all managers are incompetent, egotistical, maniacal and did not earn their right to be promoted. Furthermore, I do acknowledge that some employees have been promoted without being a degree holder and are doing just fine. However, this is a changing job market and having at least a Bachelor’s degree is increasingly becoming the norm when applying for roles. With that being said, I decided to get my Bachelors degree because that was the start to becoming more marketable and overcoming the first of (I anticipate to be several obstacles) in climbing the corporate ladder in any organisation.

LESSONS LEARNT

During my studies, after obtaining my degree and currently back in the job market again, I have learnt the following lessons:

If I was offered another suitable alternative, I would have never gone to university

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A Bachelor’s degree, regardless of its duration, is ultimately a foundation course but a more expensive version of this. I studied International Relations and Chinese but my superb grades in International Relations will not get me through the doors of even the most prestigious international volunteer organisation and my Chinese, though robust academically, will never be good enough for me to even qualify for the role of a community interpreter. It almost makes you wonder if the whole thing was an expensive farce or a way to just keep us youths occupied so we don’t add to the already over-burdened job market.

Your work options as a student are not limited but rather, limitless.

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Even though you are a student, your options for work are not limited to cleaning, bartending etc. Before I left my full time job to pursue full time studies, my manager had the nerve to say ‘Good luck. You know the best you can get in the way of work will be bartending right?’ WRONG. I was determined to not take any loans and to supplement the financial support I was receiving through my scholarship and grants. Therefore, I chose to work part-time. If you will be using a job agency, the best way to achieve a healthy study and work balance is to possibly work occasional weekends. I was able to manage doing this in a luxury car dealership. However, the best option is to work for your university. My university was superb in recruiting students to different roles in the departments and faculties on-site. The pay wasn’t bad and they were very conscientious of offering roles that had hours that were reasonable enough to not encroach on your studies, while providing a quasi-steady income. The only thing is that this may mean going to work after class. In either case, you will have to be highly disciplined.

Lecturers and tutors can be both an enemy and a friend

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Lecturers and seminar tutors can be lazy and difficult. There are some lecturers and tutors that regurgitate the same material they had for the last five years and happily teach this for another six. If they made the effort to update this, they didn’t necessarily take the time to work on their delivery. Many times I was lulled to sleep by monotonous tones and uninteresting talks only to wake up when everything was over. As to them being difficult, as human beings they will not always be completely impartial and neutral when they deal with us students. You need only get to the stage of doing your dissertation and having a supervisor (which you will need to have several 1:1s with) to realise how much power they can wield in hindering or assisting you.

You will constantly face tests in and outside the classroom

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You will constantly be tested in the classroom and in the job market. If you think the worst injustice is being told that you need experience after spending the last four years labouring away diligently at your studies, think again. There is an enemy like none other which we are now having to contend with and that’s psychometric tests. Oh yes! Those lovely ‘pain in the ass’ that you’ll have to study and practice for if you are seriously determined to get into those more established and prestigious institutions. But why? Understandably, the job needs to find a way to separate the wheat from the chaff but why subject graduates to another round of rigorous tests when we just about kept our heads above water for the last three to four years? If these tests are really what matters, then let us study for that instead of doing all these modules at university (some of which will not even be applied in our field).

However, if you’ve chosen the other route of just going to interviews, that’s another joke. It’s not all about dressing the part, looking the part, sounding eloquent, being knowledgeable and demonstrating your skills. The deciding factors are more subtle such as if they see you fitting into their work environment; if you belong to a demographic that thinks, articulates and gestures in a manner commensurate to their social standing; if you will be a threat to them, in the future, through your sheer ambition; if you remind them of someone they dislike….. I could go on and on but these are the things that your career coach won’t tell you because it’s hard to prove. Many times, the hiring managers and interviewing panel themselves are oblivious that their decisions are being informed by unconscious and institutional discrimination.

Previous work experience only gives you a slight advantage

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Who said having a solid work background, before studying, will guarantee you smooth transition back into the job market? I foolishly thought that I could resume my life, as it were, before I went into full-time studies (i.e. get a job at my old salary grade or even higher considering that I now had a degree). That was wishful thinking and I had to learn the hard way. I was no different and I was no special. I had to start from the bottom again but the good part was that I was noticed a lot quicker by recruitment agencies. Granted, I wasn’t altogether happy with the jobs they were offering but within two weeks of graduating, I was back into work.

Students need to start exercising their smarts even before they’ve had their first lesson

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Students need to start thinking outside the box when it comes to pursuing university studies. It’s not enough to just succumb to the exorbitant fees; accept the Herculean task of paying back a debt big enough to be your mortgage and struggle, for however long afterwards, to find a job and make ends meet. Look into studying abroad and compare your tuition fees here and in European universities. From the first year, start making yourself known to the movers and shakers in your field of interest. Frequent their circles, interact, network, make sure you have a promising start once you graduate. Dial back the partying for now. It seems all thrilling to drink yourself to oblivion and do as much damage to your brain cells, while you can, so you can have stories to tell your grandkids. All of that is overrated because you are bleeding away money, most of which isn’t yours, and will lose contact with half the people you meet anyways. You will have all the time in the world to travel, enjoy life and party after you graduate. Make the most of your time while studying. As my very good African friend and mentor once told me, the difference between you and others is how well you use your 24 hours.

In the end, it’s not all doom and gloom

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Difficult, pressing and stressful times as these, if handled well, are very character building. All the failed interviews, rejection letters or even emails that went unanswered build perseverance and patience. All those times that you had to budget with little to nothing in your pocket, while living on just toast and beans, builds financial prudence. All those disappointing grades and exam results, which did not justify all the hard work you invested, make you uncomfortable enough that your aim will always be nothing less than the best. All those party invites you had to turn down, all that socialising time you swapped for library hours, all those summers you found work instead of being on vacation reinforce how you handle your priorities. You see, the true purpose of university was never to just gain a degree. It was always about gaining those life skills that would ultimately make you resilient in this world. Be smart, study hard and give yourself a fighting chance.



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