TL;DR: Universities are supposed to educate you, make you think, and give you some time to “grow up”. I argue that (except for the “time to grow up”) the Internet serves this role much better, making modern-day universities into a certificate-granting machine.
Recently I’ve been having multiple discussions where people criticized Tokyo Tech saying that students don't receive enough guidance from their professors - they would like to be given more advice on which papers to read and which research to conduct.
While I think that the amount of guidance you get depends more on the professor than the university and that you don't need that much guidance to achieve good results, it made me question the following: “What’s the purpose of a university in the first place?”.
I spoke about it with a professor of mine and suggested that universities were built as places of study, for people that build their lives around the pursuit of knowledge - and thus learning as much as possible is the main purpose. To my surprise, my professor said that I was deeply mistaken and suggested that I change my mindset about it in the future.
After giving it some thought, I changed my view about it - now I think that if you think about universities as places to collect and store knowledge then your view is at least 50 years too old.
With the advent of the Internet, we no longer need a centralized archival system and can learn literally anything at any time, be it free (YouTube, Coursera, khan academy, edX) or paid (Udemy, LinkedIn Learning, Skillshare, etc.). Papers are being published by professors and their students in their labs but are downloaded on google scholar and discussed on academia.edu and ResearchGate.
HOT TAKE: Community-based websites like Reddit or 8chan provide a base for passionate individuals with a scientific method to study topics that are less popular or not covered at all at universities, be it competitive gaming, lucid dreaming or some obscure diets. Now, those people won't be awarded any degrees by any institutions but some of them have a lot of knowledge about their area of interest, conducting experiments and advancing the "science" every day.
A scientist is someone who systematically gathers and uses research and evidence, to make hypotheses and test them, to gain and share understanding and knowledge. - sciencecouncil.org
Given the above definition, who is more of a scientist, a "nobody" that gains and shares new knowledge every day by conducting experiments or a person publicly recognized as one that does minimal research and publishes fake results?
Now, why do we still have universities then?
An obvious answer is that it’s something that we, as humans, are “used to” - we’ve had been using this system for a long time and it’s probably not going anywhere anytime soon.
It also is used by recruiters to determine whether a person is good enough to get a job at their company - but then again, a university degree has little correlation with an actual skillset that the person develops over the years and can only show that the person is conscientious enough to not fail all of their classes, which is why you have to take additional tests to get into a company.
Let’s see where the world will be in 50 years.