Monday, March 12, 2018

Is Third-Level Education worth it? Maybe not - says David McWilliams

Albert Einstein (c1947).
Image source: US Library of Congress.
It won't come as any surprise to readers of this blog that I would not be in full agreement with David McWilliams who wrote in Saturday's Irish Times that "Third-level education is yesterday’s idea". This "idea" is perhaps surprising coming from an Adjunct Professor in Trinity College, the article seems to be a bit of rant against "credentialism"  (and having to go to the bother of filling out CAO forms in his family). McWilliams does not propose abolishing Third-level education or anything like that. The gist of his article is that the "value of stock of knowledge is falling because anyone can access it online", and that "it matters less whether an institution blesses you or not". Perhaps McWilliams is simply following the advice of the great Albert Einstein: "Never memorize something that you can look up"?

I think McWilliams here is a little bit guilty of regducing third-level education to simply being an exercise in garnering a blessing from a university or college in the guise of a credential on a piece of parchment. Of course we all (including McWilliams) know that it is much more than that. But he may have some argument in questioning the need for credentials in the modern world. Technology it seems is making this "yesterday's idea".

Technology has changed everything - or has it? Was it not always thus? Josiah F. Bumstead, writing in the book "The Black Board in the Primary School: A Manual for Teachers" in 1841 recalls asking a Clergyman on a school committee if the school had a blackboard. "No" replied the clergyman, "it is of no use to get them. If we had blackboards, we have no teachers to use them to advantage". Bumstead was of course astonished at this (so he wrote the book) - 175 years later we should be equally astonished if our teachers and students could not use technology to advantage. What will the David McWilliams' of this world be writing about in another 175 years?

In the same newspaper, Irene Falvey writes that her "arts degree has served me very well". Her degree was part of her path to lots of reading, travel, working broad, and getting a job related to her degree. Now that's more like it!


  1. It would be good if either of these claims, or your endosement of the latter, came with some solid research. If you are looking for a lot of references supporting the former this book is almost over the top in the amount it supplies:

  2. I found the McWilliams article a bit daft. It might have been a good argument if credentials were the *only* thing a third level degree bestows - they aren't and thus the article started from a false premise