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Jenny Greenteeth
logo Devaluation by Degrees
Ian Thorpe

Categories: Education / Social Comment/ 1000 words

A Degree used to be epitome of higher education, the indicator of academic excellence rather than vocational skills. With the proliferation of Universities and the Pick - And - Mix nature of many degree courses, this article asks if the University Degree is being devalued and the university courses downgraded to mere further education as the divinding line between academic degree and vocational diploma becomes more blurred. Is this doing a disservice to everybody involved?

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Devaluation By Degrees.

A senior educationalist said this week that though qualifications offered by many Universities recently upgraded from College of Further Education status are regarded as "Mickey Mouse" degrees, such vocational qualifications as degrees in plumbing, brewing beer, leisure centre management and rock music studies are proving their worth in society.

This man must have a degree in talking bollocks.

The degrees awarded by traditional universities are not and were never intended as vocational qualifications, they were evidence of an ability to think creatively. To talk of vocational degrees is to reduce the degree to a glorified school leaver's certificate. Medicine was ever something of an exception being a hybrid, while surgeons and physicians must have gained proficiency in established techniques, skill in diagnosis is something that cannot be taught.

Now I have never been one of those traditionalists who thinks Universities should only award degrees in fusty old subjects like mathematics and geography. All things must evolve including education. But a degree is surfing techniques? Eff off, someone is having a laugh!

Plumbers and Brewers to pick up two trades mentioned in the article, traditionally prepared for their careers by serving formal apprenticeships. These, by the late twentieth century, involved a mix of hands on experience and classroom education to combine theory with practical skills. A perfect blend for tradesmen and craftsmen. People who managed leisure facilities were usually retired from a profesional and were supported by a team who had been successful in their chosen sport.

I remember the set up at the Golf Club where I used to caddy for pocket money in school holidays the Secretary, effectively the CEO of the club, was a retired solicitor. He looked after finances and ran the administration of the club. While the club professional gave lessons and sold equipment the captain, an amateur, managed the playing side; teams, competitions etc. The chair of the "greens committee" did not advise on a healthy diet for players but looked after administrative matters relating to the course itself, the head groundsman was in charge of course maintenance. There was a social secretary, a retired teacher, who oversaw the organisation of social events, the salaried club steward ran the bar and catering. All were experts in their own field. Only the retired solicitor had a degree, in law rather than Golf Club Management.

Would somebody with a degree in Golf Course Management do a better job than that team. I doubt it somehow, all were experts in their own trade and brought together a wealth of experience in a variety of fields.

Running a golf club is perhaps an poor example. Although some colf courses now are run as purely commercial enterprises many are still private clubs and most management functions are carried out by volunteers, amateurs. What about business management though? Does somebody starting out on a career in administration need a degree in Business Management? Less than three decades ago people intending to enter an accountancy or administrative profession found a job as a trainee, a position often called articled clerk, studied through day release and night school and progressed through a series of examinations and assessment that tested both theoretical and practical capability until they were fully qualified. Many engineers progressed in the same way, starting a trade or craft apprenticeship on leaving school at sixteen. According to their capability, level of ambition and personal circumstances they could progress as far as they wished, many ending up as members of engineering professions with a Higher National Diploma having paved the way to a professional qualification managed by the profession's governing body, membership of the Institute of Mechanical or Electrical Engineers for example.

Academic degrees are not the only nor necessarily the best way into many professions. It is a disadvantge to become a full member of the profession with a background top heavy with theory and lacking practical experience.

Does a Rock musician need a degree in Rock studies? The usual career path goes: learn to play (sort of), join a band, get some gigs, be in the right place at the right time. It worked for the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Paul Weller, Suggs, The Gallaghers of Oasis and the lads in the Kaiser Chiefs. "Just Fucking Do It" as Bob Geldof said.

One of the bizarre things that prompted this article was an advert I saw offering degrees in plumbing. How does one earn a degree in plumbing and why? The purpose of a degree is to establish the ability to bring a new approach to a subject, not to prove a certain level of knowledge. Few advances can be made in plumbing now and those would more likely fall into the scope of a physicist or a hydraulics engineers job description than being in the remit of the man who comes to fix your leaky tap.

I was once asked why I hadn't done a degree in history. I quipped that there was nothing new to study in history. But I have to say my literature BA is a joke. The techniques is exactly as explained in Alan Bennett's The History Boys; turn the question on its head and come at it from an unusual angle. The answer doesn't have to be right (in fact at degree level there are few right and wrong answers merely different ways of looking at things) so long as it is original.

Now call me old fashioned by I would rather employ a plumber with a few years hands on than one who is so original I get covered in shit when I switch on the shower.

The degree factories that recent governments have turned colleges and Universities into simply turn further education into an industry. Thus the goal is not to advance human civilisation but to create more degrees, attract more students, earn more fees, increase profitability, maintain growth and improve market share. Should those things be the goals of an educational establishment?

Education OversoldWe have been told for years that higher education leading to a university degree is the surefire route to career success and personal fulfillment after graduation. As resentment grows because with graduate unemployment on the rise the burden of student debt is crippling young people for many years we ask has university education been oversold for the sake of political expediency? Graduate Tax Would Deter Many From University EducationAs the public sector debt crisis forces the coalition to cut the Universities budget Ian R Thorpe wades into the argument about university education as a right and tuition fees ...
More Graduates, Less Graduate JobsAll the while Labour were in power they kept muttering about the knowledge economy as if simply having attained a University degree was a marketable asset. In reality were were spending fortunes on educating people to be call centre clerks, shelf fillers and burger flippers. Now the coalition must find a way to deal with the problem of having too many graducates in areas that offer no jobs.
Graduate Unemployment Reaches A New HighNews that there are 70 applicants for each graduate vacancy as this years University output start the soul destroying business of seeking jobs cannot have cheered anybody. But what are te reasons for this disastrous state of affairs. Could it be anything to do with governments pushing University for all to mask the true extent of our declime as an industrial nation?

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