More and more often, I find myself wanting to tell students that it’s not all about you. I don’t mean that you’re selfish. Far from it – my students are some of the most genuine and caring people that I have ever met.
Instead, I want you to realize that your degree is not all about you. It is so much more important than that. Everyone seems to think that you do a degree to (a) immerse yourself in a subject you love; (b) have an amazing student experience; and/or (c) get the certificate that is your passport (hopefully) into secure, well paid employment.
The problem with this view is that, in all cases, the student is the primary recipient. We rarely talk about the benefit of having educated citizens, from all walks of life, and their positive effects on society. When students volunteer (as many do), most see it as something extracurricular and entirely separate from your degree programmes. You don’t realize how valuable your academic knowledge and skills will be.
World leaders have recently committed to 17 “Global Goals” that will address the major challenges facing society over the next 15 years. These include eradicating poverty, developing sustainable societies, protecting our oceans, and promoting health and well-being. We need people that understand economics, and politics, and engineering, and medicine, and geology, and biochemistry to address these issues. Crucially, we also need sociologists, and philosophers, and historians, and psychologists, and linguists to help us understand the people themselves and how we can recruit, inspire, and develop them. We need what you’re learning at university, whatever degree you are doing.
So what if you don’t realize right now how valuable your education will be? It’s not just sad. By emphasising the “it’s all about me” narrative, we fundamentally change how you study at university. It encourages you to focus on how you can achieve the best marks in the most straightforward way, rather than thinking about why this knowledge could be useful in the future. It leads you to think that if you miss this lecture, or don’t try your best on that coursework, you’re only letting yourself down. It makes people do things to put on their CV, rather than to learn how to do something important. Let’s change that.
Learn everything you have access to. Learn because you want to be able to contribute more. Learn because this is about far more than just you. We need you.
PS There are many students already doing wonderful things during their degrees, that use their knowledge and skills to make a difference to the world. Over the next year, I’m going to be interviewing and featuring some inspiring young people so that you can see how much influence you can really have. Send me a message if you, or anyone you know, has a story to tell!