Posted tagged ‘vocational degrees’

Vocational education in universities?

August 2, 2011

The word ‘vocation’, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, means ‘the action 0n the part of God of calling a person to exercise some special function, especially of a spiritual nature, or to fill a certain position’. The word implies both a status or profession, and a special calling (even if you leave out the religious reference).

It has become common in recent times to consider whether ‘vocational’ education should be an activity conducted in universities. The Guardian newspaper has recently hosted a discussion on this issue, in which some academics expressed a view that ‘training for work’ is not part of the academic mission. But is this a fruitful debate?  Is there really a strong intellectual separation between education in some wider sense and the acquisition of information and skills relevant to employment? If the latter is somehow improper in a university, then whole Faculties would need to disappear, in all universities including the most ancient. How, for example, could you then allow a law, accounting, engineering, or even medical degree?

It seems to me that this discussion takes us down a cul-de-sac.  What matters is not whether there is a relationship between a university education and a professional career path. Rather, what matters is that the university education observes the highest standards of intellectual inquiry and critique. Universities need to demonstrate that the skills they help to develop in students will serve those students well in later life. Insisting that such skills must not be ‘relevant’ is silly. Rather, they should encourage the sense of vocation, or ‘calling’, that should be part of every person’s working experience.


Being the Master

July 30, 2010

One of the side-effects of any significant increase in participation levels in higher education is that a degree no longer sets you apart from the general population. If the official Irish target of securing a 72 per cent participation rate of each age cohort is achieved, then having a degree will be nothing very special. It therefore follows that those with ambition will look more closely at extending their studies to take in a postgraduate degree, usually at Master’s level. And indeed that is what has happened, and over the past decade or so the number of those following this path has increased dramatically. Previously the main postgraduate activity tended to be in business schools, particularly in MBA programmes, but now it is common to have taught degree courses in almost any discipline.

For those who want to develop their portfolio of achievements with a Master’s degree, the jury is actually out as to whether it will necessarily help them very much; it will depend on the degree and the kind of career they want to develop. But a recent article in the Guardian newspaper suggests that some employers are now looking for postgraduate qualification for new recruits in certain jobs.

The question that we may increasingly be putting is whether postgraduate programmes are particularly appropriate for more vocational qualifications, in professions such as law, accountancy and so forth. In other words, we may start to look more closely at the American model of having quite general undergraduate degrees, and keeping profession-oriented programmes at the postgraduate level. It is s model that, on the whole, I would prefer, not least because we should probably stop asking young people to make career choices at the age of 17, when they are often very badly equipped to take such decisions.