Widen the gap: more opportunities to study and travel at the same time

November 22, 2018

We hear a lot about the merits of students taking a “gap” year between school and academic study. We found this article in the Sydney Morning Herald. It’s worth a read if you are considering a gap year between finishing Year 12 and Uni. 

We hear a lot about the merits of students taking a “gap” year between school and academic study.

Jenna Price,“I can always tell the students who had a gap year”, claims “extensive academic research” indicates there is a subsequent academic performance gap between the gap-takers and the remainers. Like the Brexit vote, it is bad news for the remainers.

There are, of course, social justice arguments to be made. The well-resourced students from the so-called “leafy” suburbs are more likely to be in a position to take a gap year. They are also more likely to be better supported and less distracted by the need to earn a living when they subsequently enrol.

Is recommending a gap year to “shape one’s identity” as old-school and elitist as the view that university is a place where one can escape the demands of employment to be steeped in argument and knowledge?

I have yet to see a great deal of research on the impact of the nature of the gap year. Does drinking cheap beer on a beach in Bali produce better results? Or is meditating with mindfulness in Morocco more likely to produce a mighty mind? Is working in a pub in Earls Court a more immersive experience than working the Rooty Hill RSL bar?

That said, I am all for gap years. The best thing I ever did was drop out of university (electrical engineering), manage a pub for a year before returning to psychology. That experience also set me up for my first serious graduate job offer. Bass brewery decided I’d make a wonderful beer salesmen with the winning combination of pub work experience and behavioural insights. A car, 10K and a beer allowance! What more could a young man want in life?

When I took the gap in the 1980s it was not nearly as acceptable or easy. A university dean remarked “we were feeling generous when we let you in” and my father was none too impressed either. I had to wait until the next academic year to resume my studies, and changing courses was not easy. Today, universities bend over backwards to accommodate students changing pathways during their degrees, and welcome and support students of all ages and stages. Dropping in and out of study is a viable and flexible option.

Given the increasing casualisation of the workforce, combined with the unprecedented global opportunities for work, I wonder if it is not time to extend the concept of a gap year to a gap life. Rather than seeing these forces as threats to security, perhaps they are liberating opportunities. In the past, it was people who did not like shaving or clothing that packed their kids into a leaky boat and set off around the world on adventures. Now it is a rational choice for sane people too.

Given we are increasingly becoming renters, we have fewer reasons to be tethered to the moorings of the home port. Local universities are getting in on this, opening campuses overseas. The one which suffers my presence has a campus in Rome. In a gap life, one can combine travel and study. The increasing popularity of portable qualifications, like the International Baccalaureate, means kids can travel too.

A life of dropping in and out of work and study sounds good to me. It is called lifelong learning.

 

Words: Jim Bright, FAPS is Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU. As appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald.

 

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