So, is a degree still worth the investment?
I’m afraid this is a bad story. I recently was chatting with a very pleasant lady while waiting for a plane, and when she found out what I did for a living she unburdened herself to me. Her husband, now in his mid-40s, had some six years previously decided that he wanted to improve his professional opportunities. He did not possess a university degree, but had shown lots of interest in science at school. Then as the Celtic Tiger was roaring and the Enterprise Strategy Group (remember that?) was telling everyone that they should move ‘one step up’ educationally, he decided he would go back to college. He studied biology, and then, with a very good degree, he went looking for high value employment in the smart economy. Yes, I’m afraid you guessed correctly, he didn’t find anything in which he could engage his new expertise. So he went back to what he had done before, considering the previous three or four years to have been wasted.
In fact, I have a hunch that we may be coming to the end of an era in which a university or college degree was considered to be indisputably desirable and a good return on personal or public investment. As we move towards a degree as the expected qualification for the entire population, having it is no longer so exceptional, and ironically, not having it not such a downer. If we think of a university degree as something that opens doors to special careers and high returns, it is obvious that this cannot hold if everyone has one.
But then again, a degree should not really just be seen as a key to the executive suite, but rather as an educational investment that will provide a more skilled and enlightened population. It is about providing the country with the capacity to solve problems, handle complex technologies, understand cultures, and so forth.
But right now we have a very opaque sense of what it is all for, which also explains why we are so bad at strategising it and funding it. We don’t know what higher education is for any more. And because we don’t know that, we don’t know how to plan for its future, and we start making a bigger and bigger mess of how we run it. Right now the national formula is to scale down the investment, increase the numbers, and control the operation tightly from some central national point. What will that bring us?
It is time for something better. It is time to understand what part of higher education is vocational, and what part is educational in a broader sense. It is time to have a plan about how graduates will develop their careers on leaving education. It is time to state more clearly what we see as the benefits of higher degrees, particularly doctorates. And it is time to engage and motivate those working in higher education so that they can apply energy and skill to their tasks and so that they can lose the instinct to feel nostalgic about whatever went before. It is time, frankly, to stop messing around.Explore posts in the same categories: education, higher education
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