The societal pressure placed on achieving academic success and the undervaluation of practical skills in Dutch society, has led to a crooked perception among students prioritising university degrees over practical jobs. Join E&M author Dagmar Herremans to find out the pillars this phenomenon revolves around.
During a recent conversation with a colleague, I found myself engaging in small talk as one often does. In an attempt to keep the slightly forced and awkward conversation flowing, I asked her what she was currently studying. Though I have sadly, but predictably, forgotten the exact name of the course, I do recall she was studying at the Amsterdam University of Applied Science (HvA). For those unfamiliar with the institution, the focus is primarily on practical skills rather than academic theory.
To my surprise, she went on to explain that she had previously attended the University of Amsterdam but had decided to leave due to a lack of motivation to spend the next three or more years buried in academic books. Her decision to pursue a practical course of study was met with confusion and surprise by her peers at HvA. None of them could understand why she would choose a course of study with potentially lower earning potential over an academic program with the ‘promise’ of a high future income as its most attractive feature.
This conversation left me pondering the societal pressure placed on achieving academic success in Dutch society. Why do we place so much value on obtaining a university degree, when what our society currently needs are capable hands and practical skills? It is harmful to our modern society if we put young adults under the pressure to work towards a degree that might not even get them to the place they desire to reach.
A university degree is seen as the golden ticket to financial success. But as any Economics student will attest, the value of gold is subject to the laws of supply and demand. In the Netherlands, the number of university graduates is rising while the demand for their skills is simultaneously dwindling as more and more academic positions are filled. For example, many graduates of Universities of Applied Sciences are now pursuing university Masters degrees in management, further saturating the managerial job market. While critical fields like nursing and teaching are left facing alarming shortages, with starting wages for these jobs barely exceeding 2000 euros per month, managerial positions are attracting starting salaries of around 3195 euros per month, incentivising young professionals to pursue these jobs instead of roles that society desperately needs.
My high school teacher used to advise the students seeking riches to drop out of high school and start a plumbing business. He said they would be more likely to be able to buy a Tesla by installing toilets than by managing another small branch in a big company (no offence Dad!). His advice was met with laughter and sarcastic commentary from the students. I admit that I was also thinking why one would rather earn money with their hands than with their brain. Society has made us believe that having a high IQ is the greatest blessing you can receive and having a lower IQ puts you in a lower position. It is not solely the proposed money driving students to obtain a university degree, it might also have to do with the societal stigma surrounding practical jobs.
The root cause of this issue is that society at large does not seem to place a high enough value on practical jobs that require hands-on skills and expertise. Instead, the perception persists that higher education and jobs that require high IQs are the most desirable and profitable. This societal stigma has resulted in a skewed perception among students, who often prioritise pursuing university degrees over practical jobs, even if the latter offers a higher salary or simply aligns more with the individual’s own interests and skills. We end up with a societal paradox, the practical jobs most needed are the jobs most undervalued, while the academic jobs least needed are overhyped.
In the Netherlands, you can find many of the headquarters for global corporations, leading firms, the home of the International Court of Justice and the Peace Palace – the gateway to a prestigious, academic job is literally at your doorstep. With a relatively small population, connections to these employers is also not uncommon: how could you not feel driven to join this workforce when it seemingly surrounds you at all times. Whilst in the past business professionals would have worked their way up a company through experience, or studied practical business and joined with this expertise, now a BSc in Business is the next step in many young minds after high school. Overall, the productive, and maybe slightly too efficient attitude found in Dutch culture drives a highly educated workforce, maybe to an extent which dissuades other career paths and interests.
This is not meant to decrease ambition. We thrive on ambition. It is to take a step back and look at where your ambition is taking you. Is it towards the job you would love to have, like my colleague, or towards the job society would love you to have?
Top picture by @andrew_t8 on Pixabay.