Monday, 28 March 2011

Degree Inflation

Don't expect daily posts, but I haven't written about anything before so, I have a great deal to share.
There is something very worrying about universities right now I believe. Forty-fifty years ago, having a Bachelor's degree meant you were a really smart and progressive person in the world. Many people were school dropouts and otherwise would certainly dropout of university. All that mattered were your skills, intelligence and ability to impress in an interview. However, having a bachelor's degree meant you were smart, there was no need to prove it anymore.

Nowadays, people study for their bachelor's, their master's and their PhD's and might still not find jobs. Almost everyone has a bachelor's degree now and it's like the 3-4 years you have spent in university don't mean a thing. In Belgium and Australia having a bachelor of science or engineering would not even get you a job in either industries. You need a master's degree in engineering to actually find a job in engineering, since you would not be accredited in the country to work as an engineer otherwise. It's becoming close to medicine. I think this is frightful. Soon enough you might need a doctorate to just find decent work in your field of study. This means the youngest professionals would be 26 years old with at least £60000/€70000/$95000 in debt and earning nothing more than a bachelor's degree would have earned you 10 years ago. They will also be expected to work until they are 70 years old in the Western countries with the rising pension age.

Add to this that wages haven't been keeping up with inflation and they might even have to work well into their eighties to even secure enough money to retire. Unfortunately, by then they wouldn't be able to enjoy their retirements. This is the prospect of your children.

Add to that the fact that if your degree is not from universities of the Ivy League or OxBridge (and a few others) your CV is thrown to the bottom of the stack. These places are full of geniuses... Why would employers want you if you got your degree from the University of Blahblah ? So not only did you work your ass off for 8 years, you would still be asking for unemployment benefits or going to work for McDonald's.

Another option might be to move to another country where they are in need for people who studied what you did and hope there are no IvyBridge people thinking the same thing as you did. I am pretty sure there will be another degree soon, probably in the same form as the medicinal specialization degreed, so an engineering student would have to decide not only what field of engineering (e.g. chemical, electrical,...) but also a deep specialization (e.g. renewable energies -> wind power). I believe this would be the most natural progression of degrees. Of course, this is only if we don't end up in a radioactive abyss caused by nuclear power plants and/or weapons..

I'm going to end up with a Masters in Engineering in a year's time, I wonder how much it will be worth by then. What about you ?


  1. Degrees are no longer worth the paper they are printed on. BA means Bugger All. There is more money in Trades and more jobs too. It has to be disheartening to study for several years only to be told you have no real experience so there's no job available. Today, many are doing study while working in the field. They may be doing work which is beneath what they wish, but this added experience is providing a launch pad for when they do finish their degree. It just takes longer. Hope you find work in your field when the study is finished.

  2. I don't think it's a problem with the degrees. It's a problem with the labor market. It's soft. That means the employer has lots of applicants to choose from.

    At least in Finland, though, it's very much dependent on the specialty and the time. We're recruiting at this time (software development), and right now we have a really hard time finding qualified applicants, let alone *good* applicants. This time last year, the situation was totally reversed.

    But if you have a degree in the "wrong" field or are entering the labor market at the "wrong" time, yeah, it's gonna be tough.

    In Finland at least, in most fields a doctorate won't help you get a job. The opposite, in fact—you're overqualified for pretty much anything outside the academic world. And the competition for good academic jobs is really tough.

  3. @Anonymous: I read an article about studies in the US. It was a comparison between someone who worked towards a Master's degree in an average field with someone who instead of studying immediately started working as a garbage guy. Apparently, the garbage guy would end up with more money than the average guy with a degree nowadays.
    Since the guy with the degree would have had to pay more than $250000 for his 4-5 years degree, which he would have had to repay over the years. At the same time the garbage guy would have bought a house instead with that money and have jump-started his career 4 years before the guy with a degree.

    @PJ: Yeah, you are right too, but having more and more people walk out with a BA,BSc,BEng... means there are more possible applicants, so it feeds the amount of applicants for one job.

    The reason you might be finding less-qualified applicants now than last year is that last year you probably got more applications of people who had worked in the field before and got laid off, while now you would have less of those and more fresh graduates. Fresh graduates need training usually as universities nowadays train the basics of everything and don't seem to delve very far into the practical stuff. The idea is to teach the student the capability of learning things more easily.

    In the UK, I believe that PhD's are valued highly in the R&D departments, but not as much in the general industry.

  4. In the UK, the previous government set out a target for 50% of school leavers to attend university.

    Now, in Western countries IQ=100 is set to be the median score for the population and the IQ curve follows a normal distribution.

    If 50% of the population is to go to university and presumably aim to get a degree at the end of it then surely that means that a degree is now an 'average' qualification rather than an exceptional one?

    How does this help? I don't suppose in the UK 50% of all the jobs for young adults are jobs which require graduate level education.

    Haven't we potentially just pushed the criteria for many jobs up to degree level as a means of candidate selection, where before it may have been just good GCSEs or A levels, and left people with enormous debts for the privilege?

  5. Well, the goal, I suppose to to allow the right for everyone to go to university, which before was a privilege for the rich (and incredibly intelligent) only. This of course is not fair towards others and since 'Western' countries are quite socialist, this does not hold to be a correct way of living.

    And yes to your question in the end.

    BTW: I think I know who this is ;)