Face Off: Is university experience essential for one’s personal development?

Joanne MaAngelina Wang

Each week, two of our readers debate a hot topic in a parliamentary-style debate that doesn’t necessarily reflect their personal viewpoint. This week …

Joanne MaAngelina Wang |

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Kin Wan, 18, Chinese University

Hang Seng School of Commerce was granted university status earlier this year, which means there are 11 universities in Hong Kong. This shows hows important the role played by higher education institutions is in the city.

Universities bring many benefits to students. They offer young people an all-round education and help them to develop their academic and social skills. As a result, they enter society as responsible adults, hopefully ready to cope with future challenges.

I have no doubt that studying at university enriches students’ lives. Firstly, they are exposed to a range of activities that can only be found in universities. During those four years, they become members of various clubs, and take part in – among other things – sports, exchange programmes, and debating. This allows students to interact with people from different backgrounds and make new friends.

Secondly, university students can use the latest technology to conduct research and enhance their professional knowledge. So, when they graduate, they are well-prepared to compete with others with similar qualifications. A university experience also gives local students the confidence to tackle any problems that they may face in the workplace.

Thirdly, the government provides a lot of help for university students from low-income families. For example, they can apply for loans or grants and, if they qualify, the university will pay for some of their education – or even bear the entire cost of an exchange programme.

Finally, students with a university degree are more likely to have a successful career, be more confident, and have better social skills than secondary school graduates. Therefore, I can’t understand why some people still think a university education isn’t essential.

University isn't the only way to get ahead in life, take it from those who made a different choice

Angelina Wang, 17, Chinese International School

Parents often parrot the age-old saying: “Once you get into university, you’ll do well” to their children. There is no truth in this, but it is repeated to students throughout their childhood and teenage years until it becomes ingrained in their minds. Therefore, many people believe that a university education is the key to success.

But does success in the classroom guarantee personal growth? Compared to what one learns in a lecture hall or laboratory, the lessons one learns through genuine life experiences are much more valuable. This is why a university education is not essential to your personal development.

A university education teaches people that achievement lies in the numbers. The quality of our education is therefore judged by our ability to memorise information rather than its application to our daily lives or contribution to our all-round development. This reliance on standardised testing emphasises the belief that a student’s self-worth depends on their grades. This creates a certain type of student: one who thrives upon theory, but is unable to cope when it comes to everyday tasks. How does this translate to our real lives after graduation from secondary school, where our development depends on our resilience, creativity, and other intangible qualities that a university education does not facilitate?

Instead, these abstract yet crucial concepts like work ethic, conflict resolution, and the ability to think on your feet can truly be gained with hands-on experience. While a university education can lead to “book-smarts”, it is no match for “street-smarts”. This is especially true for non-academic careers, such as those in the arts or physical education. By learning on the job and making mistakes, you learn much more about the work you do and the many difficulties you face in your daily life.

Obviously the need for a university education depends on each person’s unique situation. Nevertheless, it is clear that a university education is not always necessary and is also not the best way to ensure personal development.

Edited by M. J. Premaratne