Tag Archives: New Inquiry

What good is a degree?

Here is a piece I wrote for Lot’s Wife, which should be available from the Monash Clayton campus now.

Another year of university, another year of universal drudgery. Whether it be your first, third, or Honours year, you may be looking ahead to 2013 with apprehension. Maybe you’re worried about the course load ahead, or whether you can juggle work and study between socialising. A year of university is a labyrinth to get lost in.

But what if it were for nothing? What if this fretting never amounted to much? Stop and think: How employable will you be after the three or more years? If you are planning on becoming an engineer or IT specialist, then yes, perhaps there is a strong demand out there. That Arts degree? Not so much. Even a Law degree doesn’t guarantee work straight out of university these days.1 Employability goes far beyond a degree, and if that’s all you have then it isn’t enough. The changes are not the individual’s fault, and are beyond control. What we understand of education and work is evolving, and the discerning student is advised to be adaptable.

Universities date back far beyond institutes such as Oxford, but it was this English model that paved the way for modern establishments. What began as exclusive clubs for the rich and privileged have become more and more open to the masses. Today the focus is on an extended pedagogy. Going to university immediately after finishing secondary school is expected. Adults will hop between careers numerous times throughout their working lives, and colleges account for these mature age students. Learning is for life. Despite this demographic and ideological shift the university remains a revered, hallowed place.

How long will this last though? It exceedingly appears—like with the rest of culture before—that the ivory towers and sandstone halls may soon be ground to dust under the indomitable advance of technology.

Online learning has long been available, but the digital will become much more integral to uni life. Our own Moodle is an example of combining traditional learning with online tools, but the sudden boom in MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) will see the pendulum swing entirely that way. As The Economist puts it, “…online provision is transforming higher education, giving the best universities a chance to widen their catch, opening new opportunities for the agile, and threatening doom for the laggard and mediocre.”2 Imagine a world where you can access a course from Harvard from your home in Hawthorne. Boundaries break down, and more people have access to better tools. Start-ups include Udacity, Coursera, and edX, and you can sign up to them right now (though don’t forget your real-world course load). This is all potentially good for the budding scholar, but what does it mean for campuses?

For the top, not a lot. There is no denying that there won’t be a shake-up, but the best have a pedigree, and it is hard to qualify an online degree. Mid-tier universities will have to specialise, and have an online campus in conjunction with the physical one. It could go the way of the publishing industry, with an amalgamation of large bodies and a proliferation of specialised providers. Like with any industry, once supply reaches a critical peak, demand and income become bottle-necked.

And if we think of the concept of ‘work’ as a global, all-encompassing industry, similar shifts abound.

The case for earning your degree is less and less compelling simply because everybody has one (ever more so with MOOCs). Unless it’s for medicine, engineering, or IT, wasting time and money at university is an increasingly futile project when your future prospects are grim. Has anyone ever told you to do a ‘real’ degree, or to not even bother and just start working? It probably came from a thirty year old earning a six-figure paycheck who’s sick of paying for your worthless education. Your parents may tell you to follow your dreams, but when you’re leaning on the system only to fall down the rabbit hole it’s perhaps time to do a Business major. If you’re a “P’s get degrees” vagrant, then may the Dean have mercy on your soul.

That said the world should not revolve around job prospects and practicality. There is a difference between working for happiness (short term) and for meaning (long term).3 Were work merely for productivity, governments would allot educational pathways to its young citizens rather than have the hassle of freedom of choice. Actually, that could be a great system. Show a penchant for mathematics and an interest in Lego at a young age, and you’re an engineer for life. Good bye existential crisis, hello smooth groove of infinity. The number one prerogative of any government should be investment in the future, in the construction of infrastructure, and there is no greater infrastructure than the young. Of course, no government in their right mind would assign the role of, say, film director or food stylist, let alone journalist (unless it was Propaganda Minister). That is why we have so many universities offering a massive range of learning opportunities. We have specialist schools that teach their pupils how to be artists, whole institutions whose focus is on videogame production, even while major and minor studios go under (and not Down Under). Maybe government intervention would be for the greater good.

Work is changing. The graduate of today should look forward to internships, contracts, and multiple part-time undertakings. And the liberating thought is that it won’t revert back to the good old days. Perhaps we will subsist on a civilian wage4 as our AI accomplices perform the mundane tasks. In a post-work, post-scarcity civilization, will we become bored as the days drag by, or will humanity reach another era of enlightenment and innovation? Where ever we end up, diplomas and degrees are sure to be laughable relics.

In the here and now though, experience is everything. Get out there and find part-time work at McDonald’s. Buy a camera and get off Instagram. Travel the world (preferably not the Western one). Youth occurs once, and an empty savings account means you’re making the most of it.5 And if you want to study Creative Writing, well, it’s your life.


  1. http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21567373-american-universities-represent-declining-value-money-their-students-not-what-it

  1. http://www.economist.com/news/international/21568738-online-courses-are-transforming-higher-education-creating-new-opportunities-best

  1. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/01/theres-more-to-life-than-being-happy/266805/

  1. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/03/world-without-work

  1. http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2013/01/14/the-invidious-reach-of-personal-finance-snake-oil/

Further reading regarding the future of education:



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Reads of the Day: Inspirational

Couple of links for today, a big discrepancy between pictures and a long read. Mondays are the worst what with Sunday Reading and all that. Nothing on the Oscars (thankfully):


“Stories don’t come with a convenient label: you need to be able to spot them — while experiences can make for great material.” — Some good tips to take on board.

“25 Places That Look Not Normal, But Are Actually Real” — That’s a terrible title, but the photos are inspiring.

“But the reality of choice makes digital determinists uncomfortable, for it puts the individual and society back in control of the machine.” — The ever-engrossing debate over Intellectual Property.

“You, tomorrow, could have your own bookstore, selling books in any format, that anyone could read on any device they wanted.” — Speaking of which, book publishing doesn’t know what it wants.

“In short, drones provide the technological impetus and the military capacity to turn the entire world into one giant, permanent theatre of war and a subject of total surveillance.” — Well, no need to read the rest then.

And in related news: How to defeat the drones.


Until next time, keep those eyes on the Web.

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Reading Review: Journal-ism

I am buried in books. Strangled by sentences. Overwhelmed by words. Tomes from the library regarding research, impulse buys from the local second-hand store, and freebies given to me because Melbourne University Publishing is moving offices. So. Much. Reading.

And this doesn’t include eBooks!








However, I’m not going to talk about these books. Out of interest, I am reading the two in the top left, as well as The Case For Books by Robert Darnton, but for my first of many, many (many) Reading Reviews, I want to talk about journals.

You can call them magazines, but they are much more than the cheap gossip and surface-level articles that come with that descriptor. Journals contain real ideas, deep and meaningful discussions. They often harbour an agenda, but more often than not are willing to discuss terms. I’m going beyond the idea of an academic journal (and certainly that of a teenagers diary); I believe that popular journals take the idea of magazines one step further.

My favourite journal is The Economist. I have a subscription that delivers it every week to my iPad—or phone if I’m so inclined (I actually think the layout is better on a phone). The Economist covers news from the previous week, and actually refers to itself as a newspaper. I don’t think this does it justice. It offers balanced if at times biased viewpoints on the things that mattered to the world for the last seven days. While I may not dive into the Business and Finance sections, The Economist offers so much more—world politics, breakthroughs in science, and literature reviews to name a few. It’s a great place to get ideas for writing, and the best way to keep up with global events. See also: New Scientist and Cosmos.

A few mags I had lying around: The Victorian Writer (top); Geek Mook (bottom left); Vice Magazine; Verge; Wet Ink. Note: Wet Ink has unfortunately ceased publication.










But I don’t just like the facts. I naturally want to hear opinions and rants, stories too. That’s where Australian literary journals come into it. I recently subscribed to both Kill Your Darlings and Overland, two outstanding examples of Aussie writing prowess and literary innovation. With KYD I have an online only subscription, which means I gain access to the articles through the website. The only problem with this is that it feels that a lot of the articles seem to be available free (comparatively), and that I don’t get a nice little PDF version or something similar. Still, it encourages new writing, and I love its slant. Overland has been going for a lot longer, and is pretty much the pinnacle, up there with Meanjin. As yet I have not received a copy (you too can subscribe during the Overland Subscriberthon!), but I hear good things. I’m always willing to support good Australian writing—after all, I will need publishing avenues. Oh, and this article was absolutely perfect. Editors from both rags gave a talk at the recent Independent Publishers Conference (hosted by SPN) and the most interesting thing I took away from it was their striving to maintain an online presence, with very regular blog updates (essentially free, short articles). A few notes by the speaks: Make sure you are always in people’s minds; all content must be aesthetically aligned; sustainability in terms of being shaped by and shaping  technology; sell to your neighbours—writers read other writers. It seems as if todays journals have a lot more work to do, but often with the same amount of resources as they always had.

There is so much dross out there that it’s good to have bastions to hold onto in the swirling maelstrom of the Internet. And as a young, often angry man, I like ideas that think outside the box, ideas that push my mind in fresh directions. Enter The New Inquiry. I don’t know how I found these guys, but I think someone I follow on Twitter re-tweeted an article, and somehow I ended up subbing to them too. For $2 bucks. And given the nature of the content, that’s an absolute bargain. As a subscriber you get access to a PDF of the magazine on a monthly (I think) basis, each of which follows a very specific theme—from Drones to Cops to Animals. The latest is on Gossip, including a hilarious but oddly insightful piece on Lindsay Lohan. I urge you ALL to follow The New Inquiry. Sub up, and get your mind blown. It’s like Vice Magazine, but written by, you know, mature people.

And that’s what I’ve been reading this week (and every week). For destroying your typical thought patterns, morphing neurons into brand new designs, you could do a lot worse than signing up to these journals, and many others.

What websites/newspapers/magazines/journals/stone tablets do you read on a weekly basis?

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