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(generated from captions) This Program is Captioned Live. # Theme music I'm Waleed Aly. Hi and welcome to Big Ideas, got an Intelligence Squared debate In this edition of the show, we've where the proposition is grossly overrated'. is 'Having a university degree

That's outrageous! change and transform people's lives. Education does have the power to What does it really deliver us? But do we need a uni degree? to be the preserve Going to university used could afford to support them of the kids whose parents for three to five years.

has broken wide open, But now the system

to far greater numbers of young and tertiary education is available and mature-age students. a university degree means On average, that you'll score a better paying job of degreed students but there are also big numbers the profession that they've chosen. who can't get a foot in the door of Does not having a degree like hospitality, retail and working in areas and community services are much less valued? mean that these jobs Annabel Crabb, This debate puts together Professor Peter Shergold, ABC Online political correspondent of the University of Western Sydney, currently Chancellor the Prime Minister's Department, and formerly head of of Anglicare South Australia and Lynn Arnold, now CEO South Australian premier. and formerly

in the affirmative. They're all three arguing Against the proposition Rutgers University, in New Jersey, is Professor David Finegold from Stephen Johnston Korn/Ferry International, from the talent management firm for this team, Amanda Vanstone, and last in the line-up

former Federal Liberal Perth minister Australia's ambassador to Italy. and most recently, It's a pretty good line-up serious and fiery. and the exchanges are funny, at the Adelaide Town Hall The debate took place and the moderator is Simon Longstaff. (Applause) Ladies and gentlemen, the motion before this house is that having a university degree is grossly overrated. I now invite Annabel Crabb to address this house. with a frank admission. First, I need to start are frauds. We on the affirmative team for much of our lives, We've been frauds academic transcripts. according to our for example, My second speaker, Peter Shergold, MA, PhD. Professor Peter Shergold AC, BA, (Laughter) from the University of Hull, He has a BA in politics

from the University of Illinois, he has a Master of Arts of Economics he went to the London School with a Doctorate of Philosophy. from which he obscurely emerged He is fabulously well qualified. (Laughter) For something. he's had, much of it. But not especially for the career In Australia, we know Peter career public servants. as one of our most distinguished let's be frank - But did that spring from his - the educational playgrounds ill-disciplined romp through of England and America? Of course not. will teach you to be a good secretary There is no university degree which and Cabinet, for example. of the Department of Prime Minister

If there were such a degree, would surely have de-funded it... Amanda Vanstone (Laughter) of the late 1990s. the great scourge that here's a great exemplar But in general I would say human truth - of that very fundamental we spend all of it learning, Life is long and we might spend hanging out not just the bits at some federally funded institution. To think otherwise is a serious error degree is the key to success and to assume that a university particularly in the year 2012, and thus worth any price, is, the greatest foolishness of all. speak, ladies and gentlemen. Of my third speaker, I hardly dare Dip ADE, JP. Dr Lynn Arnold AO, BA, B.Ed, Well, you know him as many things, of this great state, including former premier at his academic transcript but I can tell just by looking that what we are dealing with here education junkie. is a hard core tertiary (Audience laughter) after his name The man already has enough letters to spell out several Welsh villages.

he's insatiable. And yet he craves more, always more - a graduate diploma of theology, In two weeks he's beginning he's taking refuge in the church. ladies and gentlemen,

(Sighs) Like many addicts, an extremely successful career Dr Arnold has managed to carve out despite his addiction.

make the mistake of assuming And that's fine. But we should never equals more success. that more education opposite can in fact be true. As I shall shortly argue, the very that I have arts and law degrees. My own experience is of anyone on my team. I am the least equipped to comment, whilst studying a law degree. I did acquire many skills were among them, Er, evasiveness and wiliness when I was devising ways although I learnt those mainly after completing my degree. to not be a lawyer, But you learn on the job. have jumped the shark. Truth is that university degrees because anyone can do one They are worth less now and you can do one on anybody. (Laughter) In the decade between 2000 and 2010 at Australian universities the number of students enrolled ballooned by 72% quest for knowledge has become, and, in the same time, the global a Benny Hill chase scene. in some parts, something like

and of course my means, Depending on my whim, at a tertiary level. I can now study just about anything Liverpool's John Moores University I could go to to do an MA in digital games. Staffordshire University in David Beckham studies. and immerse myself (Audience laughter) Korea, for a masters in Taekwondo. Or to the Kyung Hee University, South I could pay a visit to the alma mater the first speaker for the negative, of my colleague, and enrol in 'politicising Beyonce'. (Audience laughter) Say it ain't so. I could head there If Florida took my fancy, for a degree in golf management. Or I could repair to Australia's own Southern Cross University and take out a scroll in surf and sports management. It's the literalism that kills me on that one. I mean, university has been used as an excuse to surf forever. Quite why you need to make it official is beyond me. But you get the point - the exclusivity of the university degree, once the very core of its intrinsic value - whatever you might think, ladies and gentlemen, of that equation - is done and dusted. You can't blame the universities, ladies and gentlemen, because over the last 20 years they've become businesses in a market place. Thanks to the evolution of fees and the recent removal of caps on the number of student places, they are making the decisions they have to make in order to remain viable.

But just as they are businesses, now students are customers. This isn't a gift horse anymore, and you want to have a good hard look at its teeth, ladies and gentlemen. (Bell rings) According to the Suncorp Bank wages report released in May this year, blue collar workers are now on average better paid than white collar workers -

$1,229 a week, compared to $1,085 a week. You do the maths, ladies and gentlemen. University degrees have become more expensive at the same time as becoming more plentiful, less exclusive and less likely to be a guarantee of profitable employment, and as a commodity, they are, as such, grossly overrated. You know, universities have to sell a product to students and the shinier the packaging, the better. That accounts for all these boutique courses. But, you know, it doesn't even matter if the degree itself turns out to have been of minimum career value to the student. Weirdly enough, the students don't seem to mind that either. Why on earth otherwise would there be 5,000 people a year enrolling in journalism studies, when every media organisation in Australia appears to be sacking journalists? I mean, 4,750 journalism students enrolled in 2010. That's more than half the number of journalists currently working in Australia. I mean, you would need, in order for all these baby journalists to get a job - (Bell rings) Simon, I've also got an associate diploma in ignoring petty authority figures, I forgot to say. (Audience laughter) Sorry. In order for all those baby journalists to get a job, there would need to be an Australia- wide fatal beer poisoning epidemic... (Audience laughter) ..ladies and gentlemen.

Look... the contemporary era, young people can expect to change careers five or six times over the course of their lives, do dozens of jobs. Why spend three to five years rehearsing for the very first of these jobs?

Doesn't make sense, ladies and gentlemen. Having a university degree is grossly overrated because, to put it brutally, life has moved on. Thank you. (Applause) David Finegold. (Applause) Well, a very tough act to follow. If we were simply here to debate 'universities are quite overrated', we'd be in trouble. If it was 'they are overrated', I'd still be sweating.

But in fact the resolution is that 'having a university degree is grossly overrated', and what I and my teammates will show you over the next few minutes is that this is a gross exaggeration, and I will give you my top ten reasons why you must vote against this resolution. The first is simple economics. In Australia you're fortunate. You can put your hard-earned cash in the bank account and they'll pay you about 5%. In the US, we're lucky if we get 2% return on our savings. If, however, you invest in getting a university degree the latest research here in Australia suggests the returns, decade on decade, have been between 15% and 20%, one of the best investments you can make, anyone can make, in their lives, and it's one that continues to pay a return throughout your lifelong earnings, including those five or six career changes that Annabel referenced. The second reason why this resolution is total rubbish is that 2.7 billion Chinese and Indians

cannot be wrong. (Audience laughter) In the last two decades, China has gone from 600,000 graduates a year to 7 million - that's right, 7 million graduates, an unprecedented growth in higher education. In India, you see almost the same type of increase occurring. And while those universities have been expanding, we're also seeing record numbers going to Australia or the US or UK or other countries to get degrees. In just the last two years, the number of Chinese coming to the US for degrees

has grown by 50%.

Why are those students, their parents and their grandparents making this investment? The reason is simple. In today's fast driven, highly competitive, global knowledge economy, they know that the ticket not to their own success but their whole family's success, is getting a good university degree. My third point is that universities are not grossly overrated. In fact, they are often highly under-appreciated. And by whom? By the young people who go. Too often, young people leave high school and they think, 'I don't have a clue what I'm gonna do. Might as well go to university.' That's why I'm a big fan of the Australian institution of the gap year - people taking a year or two to go off and see the world. And when they come back, they've got a lot of patches on their backpack, some life-changing experiences, but often they've learned two things - first, that the number of jobs that are out there without a university degree tend to be pretty boring and they don't pay very well. And second, that in fact, going to study what you're most interested in at university, is not a chore, it's not work, it's actually one of the greatest privileges that any of us could have. Which brings me to my fourth point. Universities are no longer just for young people. What many of the people in the room have discovered, including, as Annabel has clearly noted, many of our esteemed opponents, university is now something that people go back to again and again. Why? Because of just those changes that are happening in the global economy. They go back to advance their careers or to change careers entirely. In fact, Florida, Hawaii, they are no longer the leading growth source for retirement communities in the US. Where's the number one growth source? Universities. You should judge us not on the fancy words you're going to hear in the next hour, judge us not on what we say, but what we do. I'm afraid my calculator ran out trying to calculate just how many degrees my opponents have invested in. One of them hands them out to his students.

The other has chucked in his job to go do one. Either they have an immense ability to waste time, or they are total hypocrites. Let them tell you which it will be. And finally, finally, vote with your pocketbooks. I am. I ask you to judge us on putting our money where our mouth is. My son, Sam, has just finished his first year at university. He won a Presidential Scholarship to go to Rutgers, one of our great public universities. So, I offered him a free car in the driveway. He had everything paid for - tuition, books, room, AND he could've been driving a very hot set of wheels. Instead, I'm shelling out $50,000 a year to send him to Harvard. (Scattered laughter) Why? Have I lost my mind? No. I'm doing it because, first of all, he worked really hard, and he's earned it. But secondly because the opportunity to spend four years with some of the brightest young people from around the world who will challenge him but also be his lifelong friends and fellow alumni, the opportunity to do research and work with some of the world's brightest professors and the opportunity to do the other things that university gives you a chance to do, like the internship he has this summer in Washington DC where, two weeks ago, he got a chance to shake the President's hand and be on national television as he announced that he would be extending student loans. And yesterday he got to sit down and debate European monetary policy with Ben Bernanke.

Those things would not have happened if I wasn't shelling out this money for him to go to university. Now I just have to hope he drops out like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates and goes and makes a couple of billion dollars! (Laughter and applause) So, in conclusion, you all in Australia are blessed by the fact that you do not have to shell out $50,000. Yes, it's no longer free,

but it's still one of the best values available for you as an investment. So I ask you to think of universities not as grossly overrated, but in fact one of the best things that money can buy. Thank you very much. (Applause) Peter Shergold. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I stand before you as someone whose long and rather enjoyable life in universities is about to come to a sudden and rather dispiriting end.

Now in the good old days university no doubt provided Lynn, Annabel and myself with a poverty-stricken opportunity to debate and philosophise and practise politics and write poetry and drink and debauch - often all at the same time... (Laughter) ..never, I say rather regretfully, all three of us together. (Laughter) Now I suspect that university was never quite as much fun as that distant memory. Certainly on today's campuses

with time-poor students working to meet their rising fees and expenses

it rarely is. Only once, Annabel, was my academic scholarship seen of relevance to the two decades of bureaucratic life that followed. When I was the departmental secretary to Minister Peter Reith during the waterfront dispute it was discovered - perhaps by Greg Combet - that I had written learned essays on the organisation of convict labour in colonial NSW. (Laughter) 'That background,' grumbled a union official during tense negotiations 'seems to be serving you bloody well right now.' (Laughter) So my argument is not that a university degree is valueless but that it's value is significantly - nay, grossly, overrated. It is often overrated relative to the benefits provided by vocational education and training. In many ways it's also overrated compared to the school of hard knocks that's working life. In the so-called knowledge nation, a university degree is always worthy,

it may be necessary but it is rarely sufficient. And that argument, of course, reflects to some extent my own experience and that's not a weakness, rather - universities now tell me - it reflects an approach which can be extolled as leadership authenticity. So, I have a trade skill. I still believe its acquisition was an achievement. Indeed I'm not sure I could lay my hands on the various certificates that mark my academic progress but I do know precisely, more than 40 years on, where I keep the badge that was presented to me on my registration as a bus conductor. Now, I know many of you in the audience are now thinking 'Well of course he's going to reminisce with overly romanticised nostalgia to his youthful life as a clippy on the Gosport to Fareham bus service.' In fact it was hard yakka. But, without doubt, I did learn far more about organisational management running up and down the stairs of a crowded double-decker than I did either studying or working at university. Today these attributes would be characterised as soft skills - the importance of punctuality, the value of team work, the discipline of the workplace, the challenges of customer service. I quickly learned that on the midnight bus taking drunken sailors back to HMS Sultan it was useful to have them place their sailors' hat up-turned on their laps so when the finest beer of Brickwood Brewery, together with a generous portion of chop suey, made an unwelcomed return appearance, the men could take home their night's outing with them... (Laughter) ..rather than leaving me to clean up at the end of a long shift. So let me push aside that personal reflection and instead let me present you with the hard, I think incontrovertible evidence it comes from one of the great not-for-profit institutions of Australian life, the National Centre for Vocational Education Research. I chair it. This debate marks the 21st anniversary of its National VET Research Conference. Now here are the facts. A university degree confers benefits. Some of those are private, some of those are public. For the individual it offers higher lifetime income, better health and housing. For governments it means increased tax returns and lower welfare payments for society.

It stimulates greater workplace productivity,

higher levels of civic engagement. For all these reasons a degree is a good thing. But the benefits are much exaggerated relative to the private and public impact that derives from vocational education. The most important beneficial impacts that universities create, of course, are social mobility and equal opportunity. That's what we should be striving for. I strongly support Annabel's conclusion -

it's just rather a pity her arguments are rather wrong getting there because my point of view is universities are still not open enough. As the Chancellor of the University of Western Sydney

I am delighted that 30% of our students from Western Sydney come from lower SES. That is not the case. Universities remain bogged down at about 15% or 16% low SES.

The picture is absolutely obvious. Vocational education is the route to social mobility. There are far more mature age students in vocational education than universities, far more students with a disability, who are indigenous, far more students from regional or remote Australia compared to universities. So as a Chancellor, perhaps now an ex-Chancellor... (Laughter) ..I think a university degree can be a vital part of one's education.

It's an opportunity that should be open to all with ability.

I believe strongly it would be far, far better for a university to become more accessible to those who are disadvantaged. It should not be about Dad's capacity to shell out money for their children. (Applause) Now perhaps that may even happen in the future. I'd have to say the record of the last generation is not reassuring but the question tonight is whether a university degree is grossly overrated in Australia today based on the criteria of personal advantage and, most importantly, based on the criteria of social benefit. The answer is unequivocal. It is. (Applause) Stephen Johnston. Thank you, Simon, and good evening,everybody, and thank you, Peter. I've just had a call from the university asking me as an executive recruiter to conduct the search for your replacement. (Laughter) Having a university degree is not overrated and it is far from grossly overrated. Perhaps the reason that I do think that way is that in my role as an executive recruiter

I literally see the value of a degree education on a daily basis. As an executive recruiter I've worked with large organisations, I've worked with small, with private, with public, with companies who operate here and who operate oversesas. And they're asking me to find them a number of things, of course, when they're looking for new executives. Experience is important, their track record is important, their style and personality and culture fit, all of thee sorts of things are important. But they are invariably interested in their education and their academic qualifications. The clients that we are working with are looking for what they refer to as 'learning agile' people. You know, it's not very well known but the statistics will say that only about 29% of high performers are actually high potential and one of the leading indicators of high potential is this idea of learning agility, the ability for people to learn from their experiences and apply those learnings in situations that they've not confronted before. Certainly the universities have to pull their weight here. You know, they are no different to any other organisation in that they need to innovate and they need to change and they need to bring fresh ideas. But actually I think Peter's actually a prime example

of what's happening in this space. I think he undersold the work that his institution up in NSW in Greater Western Sydney is doing about opening up the possibility for people to actually come in and do degrees for the first time. There are many people coming in to Peter's institution who literally no-one in their family has ever been to university before. These are life-changing experiences for more and more people and the numbers are on the rise and there's nothing overrated about that. It is a foundational innovation that's happening in institutions like Peter's that should be applauded - investment in higher education,

yields, returns for the individual, for the community and for the country at large.

And I think probably young people today need a world-class education more so than perhaps they've ever done in their history. David very eloquently pointed out what's happening around the world... (Bell rings) the likes of India and Brazil and China. Globalisation is upon us and our opportunities now for our students to be able to participate on that global stage have never been more important. And finally I think we live in a very complex world. We talk about volatility and uncertainty and complexity and ambiguity and I think now is the time actually that no one sector can solve these problems,

that it's a time for government and commerce and the educators that are seemingly intractable. And certainly now is not the time, if ever there was a time,

for us to be in any way, shape or form undervaluing the potential for a degree to help us and help individuals grow and develop and solve the problems of the world. Thank you. (Applause) Lynn Arnold. Have you ever had one of those terrible moments when you've gone maybe to the wrong exam or when you've suddenly realised that everything you've prepared for has been wrong. I knew in a debate format that I was to follow a speaker with whom I would have to disagree because he would not be supporting my argument or the proposition that I supported. Well, I've just had one of those moments - am I on the wrong side? Have I prepared an argument FOR the proposition when in fact I'm supposed to be arguing against it? Why? Because the previous speaker was arguing so eloquently in favour of the proposition are grossly overrated. that universities degrees to be learning agile. He spoke, for example, about the need Well, we like that, that's good much the same thing. and I'm sure university people say learning agile meant. But then he said what 'Learning from experience'. He said it means,

what the content of degrees were And then he talked about when he did. it's the process of learning.' He said, 'It's not what you learn, Agree with that! what you learn is obsolete, He then went on to say that, in fact, it becomes obsolete very quickly. overrating of university degrees, And that's a bit of a gross isn't it? to learn And then he said the important thing is how to work with people. is actually teaching Nothing to do with what the degree in terms of content.

ladies and gentlemen, So I want you to take into account, for the proposition that there are four speakers and two against. (Laughter) I have done a lot of degrees myself very useful, and they've been very useful,

in terms of the richness of my life. had been enriched by them The tapestry of my life with them but would I have been better off where I did not have them? from some parallel universe Well, I don't think so. that I'm now going to do It's been mentioned a graduate diploma of theology and I start that next week. or lunchbox yet I haven't bought my pencil case on the weekend at Coles. but I will get that done 'Well, why are you doing that? You may say,

it has to happen?' Surely you're saying it does have to happen. Well, of course, I spoke to the Archbiship, any qualifications?' 'Will you let me preach without and he said, 'No'. that question. So that sort of answers And yet the fact is, a bit theological for a moment, if you don't mind me getting without degrees. the very first apostles came out (Laughter) down as Saint Paul, PhD. The letters of Paul are not written (Laughter) (Bell rings) Now, ladies and gentlemen, one could mount about this... there are many other arguments the eight-minute - Have you just given me You just gave me the eight minutes. Eight minutes. in my head. I thought I heard something ringing ..about the economics of it. just a few months ago There was an article in The Economist you get that said that the higher degree in terms of the benefit to you. in fact the worse it is then it's 23% income premium If you have a master's degree for yourself, that you might get from having that

of having provided that education, of course at a cost to society which is much more costly of vocational education. than providing other forms

But if you go on to have a PhD what do you think the premium is there? It's not 23%. It's actually 3%. In other words the premium has suddenly dropped down with this extra degree that you've got. And I don't know about others here but I've been on selection panels for people applying for work and actually had people say... (Bell rings) ..but this person is overqualified for this position. How many times have you heard that being said? Ladies and gentlemen,

the situation is not that university degrees aren't useful. They are very useful, very - mostly - enjoyable. But if we're going to make in them the answer to all humanity's problems then indeed we are grossly overrating them. (Applause) Amanda Vanstone. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I haven't worked on the buses.

as Peter Shergold has My first job was in the children's shoe department.

I learnt a lot about how to stack reserves because if they're not you lose sales and if you keep losing sales some poor bastard loses their job. So I have some experience of life before I went to university. In fact, I moved on from children's shoes to be in charge of the Pyrex counter. (Laughter) I made my mother come and have a look at it. I can remember dusting it all before she arrived to make sure it looked pretty good. And from there I progressed to the Little Money dress shop and I can tell you I saw more Crimplene frock coats in lurid, fluoro colours that I ever care to see again in my life. And I moved from there into a department called stock control because I'm so old, being nearly 60, that at that time department stores only took stock twice a year. Now they know every night what they've sold. And we were in the process of putting in a stock control system across the store so I had the great pleasure of working with a woman who was five times my age, I thought, and encouraging her to understand that the new world was going to take over, the new order had arrived, and her department, which was ladies' nightwear and ladies underwear was going on stock control. And she saw me coming a mile off, as you might expect - life experience is important. All of these things you've heard from this side, it's all true. But I'll tell you what else is true. I wouldn't have got the opportunities I've had in my life if I had not gone to university. It's just that simple. So you can say to people, 'Look, it's highly overrated, grossly overrated,' if you want. Usually the people with them are the ones that might say that. (Laughter) With lots of them. (Applause) Now the other point that I would really like to make is this business about is it the be-all and end-all. Have you heard us saying that? No. It's not the be-all and end-all. We don't say that. We just say that it's extremely, extremely valuable. And no doubt about that. Billions of Chinese and Indians can't be wrong. There's higher educational outcomes, social outcomes, job security outcomes

for people who go to university. It may be unfair that but that is the case. Now what our opposition have tried to do tonight is to recast this motion because they don't really like it. Now the motion is this - having a university degree is grossly overrated. Let's make the first point. It doesn't say 'Having a PhD.' If it said that, I'd agree. They know a lot about a little bit. (Laughter) They just narrow down their focus, they know a hell of a lot about a little bit. That's not what we're debating. We're debating 'a university degree is grossly overrated.' 'Is'. It doesn't say 'might be' 'some people do', 'regarded by some as',

'grossly overrated by many'. 'Is'! It's an absolute. A university degree is grossly overrated. That's the proposition they want you to come at.

Now you add into this the adjective 'grossly'. Ridiculous. It doesn't say it's mildly overrated or somewhat overrated or generally overrated.

It says it's grossly overrated. The proposition doesn't put to you that some snotty middle class degenerates think they're better because they've got university degrees because that, in fact, is true - there are some snotty, middle class degenerates who do think they're better because they've got a degree. But you know what, the world will catch up with them. We don't have to worry about that. The world is pretty much a great leveller, the workplace is a great leveller. This motion does not say that technical knowledge isn't important. It doesn't say that life experience isn't important or that work experience is unimportant and as I've said to you, this motion is not about PhDs, it's about an ordinary degree. What we do say is that the chances and the opportunities that come from being able to convey to someone quite a lot about yourself by saying, 'Yes, I have an Arts degree or Law degree or medicine degree,' says a lot. It says you've got a demonstrated capacity to learn.

It says you've got determination and commitment my god, getting through law was like that - some of those lectures were so, so boring! And I freely admit it - some of it was so, so irrelevent. Just completely useless.

Let me just touch on a couple of things in the last minute that I have. Thanks Annabel, you are a lot of frauds. We don't say that the degree teaches you your job, we say it gives you opportunities by what it demonstrates about you. Where was this woman when I was the Education Minister

saying that universities were teaching some stupid courses? Where was she? (Laughter) Where was politicising Beyonce when I needed it? (Loud laughter) I could have run with that line. And done pretty well with it.

Now Peter says his degrees aren't relevant

to his administrative work. No. But what he learnt through them,

the processes he went by getting them

were relevant to his administrative work. He says degrees might be useful, they might be necessary but they're not of themselves sufficient. Well, we agree. I mean, nobody said - that's not what the motion's about. (Bell dings) Let me leave it at this. I know the opportunities that would not have come to me if I hadn't had the opportunity to go to university. So I'm the wrong person to tell, to say, university degrees are highly overrated. I think that is just the biggest load of codswallop I have ever heard. (Laughter) (Loud applause) Well, ladies and gentlemen, there's an opportunity for you now to contribute to the debate. We have somebody already at microphone two. Are you wishing to speak? My name's Angela Gillingham. Last week there was an announcement about the Higgs boson and I was so excited, I knew what that was. I mightn't have understood it thoroughly but I knew what it was. And why did I know what it was? Not due to my maths teacher, who told me when I was 13, 'Go away, you'll never be any good at maths and science.' And down came the iron curtain and I never went to a science lecture for 40 years. But meanwhile I did go to Flinders University and in 2002, at 60, I got my BA. Nobody spoke about joy and happiness and that's what my degree gave me. Thank you. (Applause) Is there somebody who wants to speak to this side that they are overrated? My first part I want to speak to Mr Johnston's point about agility in learning. Going into university in 2010 I heard the same lecture probably about 30 times in the 18 months I stayed at university.

I read the same article by Foucault probably about eight. I think in terms of learning agility and learning from experience, jummping off that particular ship, I will not be the first rat to do so in the next ten years. My second point is that I'm 21 and I'm already paying back the HECS from that 18 months of university without having finished the degree so in terms of overvalued, there it is. OK, thank you. (Applause) The great thing about reading Foucault eight times, the same article, you get eight different readings. Microphone number five. My name is Katherine Prowse. I'm in year 12. I'd lke to speak against this motion because I have gone through the new SACE, this new education thing and my teachers, my students, the lovely people at Centrelink when I went there for an excursion, have been throwing themselves at me to offer alternatives to university, to offer alternatives to education, to say, 'Oh, no, you don't really need it.' I haven't actually heard anyone in in the past sort of two years of my life saying, 'University is a wonderful thing. You need it. Go do it. It's wonderful.' And yet I'm going to go

despite the misrepresentation university has given to me Well, thank you. (Applause) And perfect timing. Note that, Annabel. Somebody who'd like to speak for the motion. You'll get priority if you're here. My name's Lauren. I've attended both university and am thoroughly involved in the vocational educational and training sector at this point in my life. I've entered the university system and become disengaged very quickly twice over. I'm now working with the vocational and education and training sector and have managed to be engaged in numerous different activities that I can now transfer into different areas of my life, areas that I currently take and use in every single day of my life - the vocational education and training sector gave me the opportunity to target my learning specifically and achieve outcomes at an earlier stage than I would have if I had been at university. Thank you. (Applause) OK, we're heading up now - I think it's good to give people a chance to speak so you can comment when you do the summings up. Microphone six. I think the benefit of higher education, especially at university, is that we have an educated population. And Annabel Crabb's point about 70% more people being engaged in university I don't think is a negative thing, I think it's actually a positive thing, and I think we should go back to the idea of a university education being more like the Renaissance where we are educated and educated for life but not educated necessarily vocationally for a particular thing. Thank you. Somebody who wants to speak for the motion? Hi, I'm Elliot and I speak for the motion because I have three grown children - I know I don't look old enough to have three grown children. (Laughter) I have two sons and a daughter. The eldest son is a draughtsman who's still living in a rented accommodation. My daughter is an accountant and my middle son is a plumber. And I'll just let you guess which one has the boat, the house, the car... (Laughter) ..goes on holidays every year... (Applause) ..and is very happy with his job. My other two often say to me, 'Why didn't you make us do a trade, Dad?' (Laughter) Thank you. Well, ladies and gentlemen,

the debate is going to be decided by your votes and I'll remind you that you each have a voting ticket. I'm going to ask each of our speakers

to spend two minutes summing up but also responding to some particular questions. Annabel, your two minutes begins now. Thank you very much, Simon. Look, I've heard a lot of things that I agree with tonight, many of them from the other side and from members of the audience who purport to contribute on the negative side. I think there's a bit of a misunderstanding

about the argument that's going on here. Nobody is arguing that degrees are dreadful. The point is that they used to be the sole pathway to influence and affluence. And now that is an incredibly out of date point of view. Lifelong learning is great, absolutely, I agree with that, but the point is that now a university education is not the only way to do that. We submit that the degrees retain a status which is out of whack with their actual indispensibility to life. I wanted to raise a point, too, about something that I heard Stephen say which is that a degree says something about an individual, it says something about their underlying intelligence and their commitment. I agree a degree says something about an individual. I mean in David's son's case, it says my dad spent $55,000 to send me to Harvard to play footy with some high-class brains and shake hands with the President.

Now that seems grossly overpriced to me, by the way, even in the Clinton White House. $55,000 would get you a lot more than a handshake

but, you know... (Laughter) ..and I can't... (Bell dings) ..quite let this go without replaying to Amanda's question where was I when she was Education Minister? Well, I don't remember a lot about my university days, that's how I know they were good, but I do remember spending one or two days at protests of several billion dollars against Amanda's removal from the higher education system, in line with the Howard government's view that university degrees were overrated and vocational education should be funded. So in the words of the first speaker, 'Judge us not by what we say but by what we do.' (Laughter and applause) David Finegold. Two minutes. Yes, well, I'd like to pick up on Lynn's tallying of the panel up here

and say that in fact, on my tally, it's not four to two up here, but actually six nothing to our side so Annabel lost count of how many degrees her team has done. Peter, in blatant pandering to this audience, cited NCVER research which showed us what? That there are high private and public returns to doing a degree and that they promote social mobility. To leave you with a quote from Tom Friedman in The World is Flat,

'We used to say to our children "Eat your peas. People in China and India are going hungry." Today we say, "Study hard. Get a degree. People in China and India are hungry for your job."' (Applause) There is no better place in the world, I put to you, what we are all better people, we are a better society, when we learn, when we create, when we come up with new ideas. And in human history, we have not created a better institution where we can do that than a university. To conclude, I'd ask you to go back to where Lynn ended and put yourself in this thought experiment. If we had this motion decided... (Bell rings) one of those children in the developing world and we said to them, 'Do you think universities are grossly overrated or would you like the chance to go, like all of our opponents?' What would they say? Thank you. Peter Shergold. Thank you, Simon. Now, what is my key argument?

My key argument is of course It can be joyous. I'd have to say from my own experience, so can working life. From speaking to others, so can an apprenticeship. That's not in doubt.

The education is important and the key, however, the reason the university degree is grossly exaggerated is because of the public benefit that it conveys. What do we want from a university degree? We want to make a better society. How can it best do that? By increasing social mobility and equal opportunity.

And don't tell me what the future might be, look at the last generation - in spite of HECS, in spite of government policy, in spite of universities having good programs, the proportion of people with low socio-economic status... (Bell rings) to get and make use of a university degree has stayed dispiritedly at 15 to 16%. It is vocational education at the moment that is opening up that democratic opportunity. I wish it wasn't so, I hope it won't be so in the future, but right now the value of a university degree in Australia for opening up and providing social mobility in Australia is grossly exaggerated. (Applause) Stephen Johnston. University degrees are not overrated. Having one is valuable, and don't let anyone tell you that they aren't. The skills learnt in tertiary education go beyond the content, they build confidence, they build perspective, determination, and collaboration, and these are the sorts of skills, as well as the smarts and as well as the content knowledge,

that employers of Australia are looking for. And recruiters see university and MBA graduates as a safer choice in a sea of maybes. Thank you. (Applause) Lynn Arnold. We've had discussion tonight about 'grossly' as one of the words to be discussed.

Well, I'd looked at the British Library catalogue, among some of the theses that they have there from various degrees, and a couple that I came across were Undressing the Moves: An Ethnographic Study of Lap Dancers and Lap Dancing Club Culture. And another one - The Characteristics of Non-Clinical Fetishists, Sadomasochists and Transvestites. And I'd suggest that there's a bit of grossness there. If we look at the 19th Century and you ask many people what was the major significant that contributed towards health improvement of people througout Europe particularly, but many parts of the world? They will invariably answer, 'Medical education. Medical degrees gave that achievement.' When, in fact, the answer was not true. Those achievements came from engineering benefits, in terms of sanitation improvements and all those issues that went with it. And, may I say, that engineering degrees in those days, or engineering education in those days, was not regarded as being adequate to be in a university,

so in fact, it was grossly underrated. Thank you. (Applause) Amanda Vanstone. I was the first in my family to go to university and I ask any of you here that are in the same position to just consider whether you've had more opportunities than the rest of your family that didn't go to university have had. And if you didn't go to university, ask yourself - if you had, would you have had a broader range of opportunities? I think the answer to that has to be yes. Look, it's not for everyone, and it doesn't make you a better person - only a first class idiot would think that. But it does give you opportunities and chances in life that you otherwise wouldn't get. And that can't be, in any way, underrated. Pick any dream you want, for the world. And ask yourself, 'Do you think it can be done with a world full of people who haven't got a degree? Or are you gonna need people with degrees to make the world's dreams come true? You are. (Applause) Please join with me in thanking our marvellous panel of speakers... (Applause) Annabel Crabb, Peter Shergold, Lynn Arnold, and David Finegold, Stephen Johnston and Amanda Vanstone. Thank you.

I really enjoy this part, it's like the Logies or something. Right, so, the pre-debate poll - hm, OK, so, before you heard any arguments, 21% of the audience was undecided. For the motion, 35.4%, and against the motion, 43.6%. That's where we started. In terms of declaring victory in these things, it's usually done on the absolute numbers but some people get very excited by the size of any swing, so, there could be - (Laughter) Oh. (Audience laughter) OK. No, no, it's just that the undecided have dropped down

to just 5.1%.

For the motion, though, 44.4%. And against the motion, 50.5%.

And I declare the motion lost. But that's really close. all members of this house for your support, for this debate, which I now declare closed. That was another Intelligence Squared debate at the Adelaide Town Hall and maybe the outcome wasn't that surpising. You can find the extended version on our website, and we'd be keen to see your comments.

You can find us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter. That's all for this edition of Big Ideas. I'm Waleed Aly, I have a university degree, I can thoroughly recommend it to you, and I'll catch you next time. Closed Captions by CSI This Program is Captioned


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