Once, in an internship application, I was asked: ‘if you were given £250k to achieve a [business] dream or goal, how would you use the money? And if you were given £10 to achieve the same goal, what would you do?’
Despite the pressure of an encroaching deadline, this in-depth question was one that I took the most pleasure in answering. Most entrepreneurially minded young people relish the opportunity to provide a short plan of how they would go about starting their business, if they were fortunate enough to be provided with so much capital to begin with.
In assessing the rationale of those who had written the application questions, I concluded that both questions were intended to be approached in a way that forced the applicant to consider the value of each of their actions. £250,000 or £10 — what did it matter? Both sums of money have the potential to make a significant impact upon an idea for a start-up. Both are of equal value if employed correctly. More can be done with £10 in the hands of someone with the ability to spot opportunities for innovation than in the ownership of someone who lacks that ability.
Now, let’s ask ourselves: what would be the most expensive way to get rich? Some might say that putting £1 towards the lottery every week is a surefire way to lose more than you stand to gain, if the habit is maintained over a number of years. Some might say that gaining £250k from a kind benefactor and promptly spending it on a risky start-up idea instead of choosing a safer investment is, again, an expensive way to gain wealth. However, I doubt anyone would dare to suggest that attending university is the most expensive way to get rich.
So, I’m deliberately embracing controversy in putting forward this opinion, but I can’t help myself. To me, university for the working and middle classes reeks of the rampant untrustworthiness of a multi-level marketing scheme. You invest a lot of money, with no definite guarantee of an ROI. I was briefly a university student myself, and am speaking from my own experience, naturally. I’m quite good at networking, and although the majority of the students attending the university I was at were upper middle class to wealthy, they were all gunning for the top corporate jobs. Like those of us from lower income backgrounds, they were equally determined to sink their teeth into the promised high salary of a coveted graduate scheme. But their reasoning wasn’t founded in desperation, an aim to further social mobility or to help solve financial issues at home. It seemed to be one of entitlement: ‘why can’t I achieve what my parents achieved? Why should there be any break in my reality? There is absolutely nothing in my way, whether I’m averagely skilled or not.’ Their arrogant certainty caught me completely off guard.
Throughout my life so far, I’ve been forced to conclude that one of the most valuable yet untried methods of solving social mobility is not to fight, but to communicate with and understand the mindset of the most privileged, and my interactions with those from more affluent social backgrounds has confirmed this theory. Although we may all be at the same event, at the same university, and conceivably of the same ability, they possess a confidence that is founded in nothing more profound than the success of their parents, or of other family members.
So that’s why I say that going to university is the most expensive way to get rich — if you happen to not be rich in the first place, of course. There is no guarantee, and you have to take a financial hit in order to be on the same playing field as those who have never experienced financial deficiency. The more you think about it, the more bizarre it seems. I’ll take a degree apprenticeship any day. Or better yet, I’ll change the entire education system.
Hierarchy isn’t really a thing in a meritocratic, tech based economy.
Or at least, it won’t last much longer.