Professional qualifications and postgraduate degrees

In a previous post I questioned our national attitude towards the professions (doctors, lawyers, accountants, and so forth), and asked whether we were training too many people for these careers, and whether we were getting our priorities wrong when we were valuing them (at university entry level) above the actual ‘productive’ professions of engineers, managers, scientists and so forth. As I have also mentioned, these latter careers can be pursued through university programmes that require much lower points than those needed to become, say, a lawyer.

Maybe we should look again at whether professional qualifications should be available at all through, or with the help of, undergraduate degrees. In other words, it may be that we should have law, accountancy, architecture and similar degree programmes only at postgraduate level, and that anyone wanting to pursue the relevant degrees would need to do an undergraduate degree first in a different discipline. This has been a topic of discussion in relation to medical education and training, but it may be right to look at the whole framework of training for the professions and to consider a change of this kind.

Moving professional training to postgraduate programmes would have a number of potential advantages: it would probably reduce the numbers somewhat (except in medicine); it would be pedagogically more desirable, as it would allow undergraduate education to focus more on general intellectual topics; it would avoid excessive interference by professional bodies in undergraduate university education; and so forth.

There are also arguments the other way, to do with cost principally. But it would be worth a more vigourous debate.

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6 Comments on “Professional qualifications and postgraduate degrees”

  1. Vincent Says:

    Why are you acting as the filter for the professional bodies in the first place. There is nothing stopping you from expanding capacity in all of those courses. Stop allowing the Professions to place the political headache on you and force them to accept responsibility for the choke point which is of their making.

  2. Iain MacLaren Says:

    This proposal, which has great merit also in potentially opening up scope for a ‘liberal arts’ type undergraduate degree which in itself might be attractive to many students, echoes the recent changes in Melbourne – changes which have been highly controversial for a number of reasons, as reported in the Australian press.

    Amongst the issues there (and of course they also mentioned the changes to the Harvard curriculum) was a parallel cost cutting exercise (which meant job losses, particularly in the Arts Faculty) and a suspicion that the shift was being made in anticipation of government student funding changes whereby full fees wouldnt be chargeable at undergrad level but would be for postgraduate programmes. The perception was that for students to be ’employable’ in comparison to the graduates of other institutions they would effectively have to stay on for the associated masters in the field of interest, paying fees for a longer period (5 years or more). There were also significant concerns about the quality of the new themed undergraduate courses (which to be fair, would be expected in a radical change on this scale), but the main criticism voiced was suspicion that this was for financial and not pedagogic reasons.


  3. Perry Share Says:

    Another matter relates to the definition of ‘profession’ itself. The range of occupational groupings that now lays claim to this label far exceeds the ‘traditional’ set of lawyers, medics and priests, and now of course embraces ‘engineers, managers, scientists and so forth’, not to mention hairdressers and life coaches! Whether, within a service-based knowledge economy we can term one set of ‘professionals’ any more ‘productive’ or not is a moot point.

    Indeed any tertiary-educated segment of the workforce that can position itself within a secure, primary labour market is likely to name itself a profession: thus we encounter tourism and hospitality professionals, accountancy professionals, social care professionals and so on.

    How then to decide which of these ‘professions’ should be trained and socialised through primary degrees, and which through postgraduate degrees? Should this be determined through the perceived necessity for age/experience-based ‘maturity’ (as in social work); the perceived complexity and difficulty of the knowledge content (as perhaps in medicine), or through a long period of apprenticeship and selection (as in law)?

    It seems to me that the call now to locate the certification of some specific professions exclusively within the postgraduate arena is an attempt by those ‘traditional’ professions to reassert their exclusionary power and status at a time when the currency of ‘professional’ has perhaps become a little debased – especially from the perspective of these groups?

    Meanwhile, in an increasingly competitive labour market the masters degree is on its way to becoming the de facto entry level for secure employment in many occupations, so the practice on the ground is perhaps outrunning the academic policy response?

    The current debunking of many of the mythical claims of the established professions, and the erosion of public trust in planners, doctors, bankers, bishops et al, might provide a very good opportunity for Irish society and Irish educators to reexamine what ‘professionalisation’ might mean in the contemporary conjuncture and, as part of such a reevaluation, to critically assess the role of tertiary education in the production of professional groupings.

    Now, back to the timetabling!

  4. […] University Blog « Professional qualifications and postgraduate degrees […]

  5. Cian Says:

    I don’t even see the need for university degrees for most of the professions. Those who are research based, for the most par (the bar comes to mind) perhaps, but programmers/engineers/managers and the like would be far better served by education more along the lines of the IT sector, with more time spent on practicalities, and less time on theory which is often unused after graduating college. Certainly, in Computers, most seem to treat their degree as a piece of paper required to enter the profession, rather than something which thought them useful things. Where this is regularly the case, the system for educating professionals needs to be seriously looked at.

  6. Far too many students have graduated with law degrees. The market is saturated – some even applying to be secretaries – so they can land that first job. I am not sure that layering will be how our grandparents remembered it to be. The landscape has changed so I agree with you we are training too many people in this area but the market will correct itself.

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