So, I guess before anything I need to clarify some differences, or perhaps "perceived differences" between American universities and ones over here. Firstly, it's been my impression that to get into the elite universities, you need to have more than good grades. Generally speaking, you need to have extra curricular activities that show that you're awesome; on top of very awesome grades. In Australia, you are judged by your results only so there isn't a need to go out there and do all these things to stand out from the crowd.
Secondly, the idea of "elite universities" is more prominent in the US than over here. For example, the closest parallel you'd have between the Ivy League schools in the US over here would be the "Group of 8". If you said you attended one of these, or you said you attended a university that wasn't one of these, you wouldn't really get too much of a reaction either way. Most people do not seem to know that there is "meant" to be a level of prestige associated with what university you go to. Further, Australian culture is very much against any kind of overt displays of class.
By that I mean in the US you might be proud of the fact you went to Harvard or Yale and that you were involved in all of these activities, in Australia you would be less likely to be looked upon favorably. Yes, there are certain organizations that do prefer the Go8 graduates, but from what I can tell from conversations I've had with others, it's limited to mostly Law and Finance. Outside of that, where you got your degree isn't of concern, and you'd have to be careful with how you flaunt your credentials.
Anyways, so I started this off in this manner because I want to talk about how disappointed I am with University. You know, there are certain beliefs you hold growing up that with time are revealed to be bullshit, and each time it either kinda hurts or makes you disillusioned. For example, I remember the first time I had an experience with a doctor where it occurred to me that this guy wasn't interested in making me feel better, but rather was interested in getting me out the door so he could bill another patient and then another and then another. He was frustrated with me taking so much of his precious time.
So, in a similar manner, my idea of what a university degree means has been shattered. This isn't something new as I realized it quickly, but I thought I'd get it out there. So what made me realize this was having studied subjects at a couple of different universities and having the same experience in each - the assessments were a joke and you don't really know anything by the end of it. I thought perhaps it was my university the first time, but then I studied at others and it was the same. Then I thought "Perhaps the Ivy League schools in the US are superior?", but when I looked at their coursework online I discovered much more of the same.
The work isn't necessarily harder, or more thorough - it's just got more prestige attached. I was looking at subjects offered by a university I never heard of before just recently, and what I found interesting was that passing its subjects was actually harder than the more prestigious ones. Admittedly, this was for just a couple of the subjects I was able to get info on, and not all of them, but it was interesting. Of course, the degree of difficulty was still rather basic.
Having gone through university so far, I find it hard to understand why so many people think so highly of having a degree. I mean, so many of my friends and so many sites I visit joke about cramming at the last minute and getting (in American grades) Cs and Bs with little effort. Surely the people who went to university before us realize this? If so, then I do not get why there are such high expectations of having them in what I'd consider not critical areas (Engineering, Finance and Medicine to name a few). I mean really, I need a business degree? An IT degree? Really? I really need one? I have learnt very little in my degree thus far that I didn't already know, so I find it hard to believe it's beneficial.
I think the main problem with universities is if they're designed so that everyone can go and get one, then they have to dumbed down to get those results. There is only so much you can do with content to make it easier to grasp before you have to start lowering the bar. I was reading a study recently that was conducted in a few countries where over a period of 20 or 30 years they conducted IQ tests on students. Interestingly, as the percentage of the population getting degrees rose, the average IQ of university students dropped. In some cases like the US, the average IQ is basically that of the population at large.
In countries where a relatively low amount of the population holds degrees, the IQ has remained high. In fact, countries like Germany are notorious for how difficult their university programs are, and most people in the EU will not go there for a degree and in fact German citizens rather go elsewhere for their degrees.
Overall, I think if we want degrees to mean something they need to be more thorough and more in depth. Otherwise, having a degree is like adding another couple years to High School, and what's the point of that?
Of course, I could just be exceptionally intelligent and that's why I find it all very easy - but I don't think I am THAT intelligent.