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Value of degree question of debate

by Amit Chakma

There has been a lot of coverage in the media about a mismatch between the kinds of skills employers are looking for and the skills people searching for work have to offer.

The issue has ignited a debate about the value of a university education and, in particular, a bachelor’s degree in today’s increasingly specialized world.

Some would pit universities against colleges and polytechniques, which is wrong headed because there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to postsecondary education. Students have to determine for themselves which institution will help them reach their full potential.

For students with the interest and aptitude, a university education remains the best investment these young people can make for themselves. Bachelors’ degrees in arts or science provide the basic foundation
on which careers and lives are built. It allows for greatest flexibility for students to plan their next steps, be it to continue on to receive an advanced degree; pursue a particular skill at a college, or a decision to go immediately into the work world.

For those who choose to work, a 2012 Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities survey of undergraduate students found 87 percent were employed within six months and 93 percent were working within two years of graduation.

Statistics Canada reported the number of job openings that required a university degree grew by 700,000 net new jobs between 2008 and 2012. The Association for Universities and Colleges of Canada estimates that number will grow by 2.1 million jobs by 2020.

There have been a lot of media reports on the shortage of college-trained skilled workers, but we are also facing a shortage of university-educated people including engineers, physicians, dentists, dieticians, psychologists and management in the mining, oil and gas industries.

The vast majority of students who come to university do so to prepare themselves for a career, but what they come away with is far greater than an expertise in a particular field of study. Universities teach people how to be creative thinkers, how to assess a situation and how to find creative solutions to problems. They learn how to collaborate and communicate effectively, all skills that will be increasingly required in our complex world. And what we offer at Western goes beyond even those skills.

There is a uniquely Western spirit that reflects a balance of intellectual, cultural, and physical opportunities for our students.

Our campus environment provides a safe place where students can hone their leadership skills. It is here where they develop a network of friends from around the world that will last a lifetime. We intend to increase the opportunities for students to grow. Among our fundraising goals is a priority to ensure 10 per cent of our students spend part of their education learning outside of Canada, which will help them succeed in our increasingly global society.

This Western Alumni Gazette magazine is a wonderful tribute to the ways in which our alumni have taken what they’ve learned at Western to fashion great careers and enrich their lives and the lives of others. They are examples of how university can transform lives.


This article appeared in the Spring 2013 edition of Alumni Gazette
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