Uni is for me says teenage millionaire

‘We don’t need no education’: Leaders without degrees.

Nick D’Aloisio, at just 18, has won international acclaim, earned millions and landed a top job. Now he is going to study at Oxford, but does his success suggest that uni is a waste of time?

An 18-year-old has decided to go to university. Like most teenagers, he is ‘thrilled’ at the chance to make like-minded friends and relieved that he got the the A-level grades to match his offer. Yet unlike most teenagers, this soon-to-be Oxford undergraduate is Nick D’Aloisio, a coding prodigy, self-made millionaire and ‘innovator of the year’ in 2013.

He has a more impressive CV than most people could assemble in a lifetime. At 12, he taught himself programming and soon created software that could analyse the mood of Facebook status updates. It went on to make thousands of pounds a year.

Then at 16, Nick started work on an app that takes online news stories and turns them into bite-sized bulletpoints. Asia’s richest man heard about it and decided to invest £154,000. When he emailed Nick, he was expecting a reply from a team of professionals, not a teenager working in his bedroom.

Just a few months later, Yahoo bought Nick’s app for £19m, making him one of the world’s youngest millionaires. Yahoo renamed the app ‘News Digest’ and put Nick in charge of running it at their California HQ while he also studied for his A-levels. Then came the offer of a place to study computing and philosophy at the University of Oxford.

After deliberation, Nick decided to go to university and continue working part-time. ‘It’s always been a passion of mine to learn,’ he says, ‘and although the business stuff is fun, I’m a technologist and I’m passionate about the subject.’

Yet many say Nick’s own success throws into question the worth of a degree. People as diverse as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, entrepreneur Richard Branson, Abraham Lincoln and former prime minister John Major all have achieved greatness without either completing a degree or even attending university.

University of life

Entrepreneur Peter Thiel says university is an overpriced way of learning to think like everyone else. Real entrepreneurs trust in their ideas and go it alone. As Nick’s story shows, people can learn a great deal without setting foot on a campus. For Richard Branson, business is just as stimulating a learning experience. He says everyday he gets to work with exciting ideas and his pursuit of money makes him think creatively.

Yet others reply university is about far more than money. D’Aloisio is studying because he has a genuine passion for learning and he wants to experience university’s unique intellectual environment. Studies suggest that education makes people lead happier lives regardless of their income, and happiness is more important than money. And for many, university is a vital opportunity to consider what they want to do in life and where they belong in this world.

You Decide

  1. Is university a waste of time? Would people be better off trying to succeed without it?
  2. ‘Most people go to university without even considering what use it will be to them.’ Do you agree?


  1. In pairs, come up with five advantages of going to university and five disadvantages. Share with the class and decide whether you would like to go to university or not.
  2. Using the links in ‘Become an Expert’, research Nick D’Aloisio and what has made him successful. Make a presentation or an article discussing what we could learn from his example.

Some People Say...

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.’Benjamin Franklin”

What do you think?

Q & A

So is university a waste of time for me?
Not at all — in some professions, such as medicine, it is vital that a person studies formally first. Even Nick D’Aloisio still thinks university is a great idea. He is ultimately interested in working on creating artificial intelligence, and believes he will be best able to do that if he studies both programming and philosophy. And many say that university should be about studying for the love of learning, not just for getting on in life.
I hear it is really hard for graduates to find jobs now.
While the graduate job market became particularly competitive after the recession, the latest figures suggest the situation is improving. Of last year’s graduates, only 7.3% were unemployed by January, which is the lowest level since 2008.

Word Watch

Li Ka-Shing is a Hong-Kong business magnate who dropped out of high school. Li has a net worth of around $31.9bn, making him Asia’s richest man and the world’s 17th richest.
Yahoo was once the internet’s top search engine until it was surpassed by Google. After a few difficult years, it has diversified into other areas, such as Chinese online shopping, and appears to be doing well again.
Conservative prime minister John Major left school at 16 with just three O-Levels. One of his early jobs was working for the family business painting garden ornaments.
Thiel is a co-founder of LinkedIn, a highly successful social media site for professionals. He is so against universities that he even started a scholarship which pays 20 outstanding undergraduates $100,000 each if they drop out to pursue entrepreneurial ventures.
A few years ago, the economist Richard Easterlin published a study on happiness, which found the three things that seem to correlate with it are marriage, health and education.

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