Vir Cantium

I'm right, you know …

Farewell to the BA (M Mouse) Degree?

Today’s report into the funding of university education could mark a turning point in higher education that has been a long time coming.

Gratuitous picture of some young women (well, if the Telegraph can do it ...)

A form of grade inflation in higher education has resulted in a situation where, as James Cleverly noted recently, even a ‘Desmond’ – a 2.2 – counts for little. With the push to get 50% of school-leavers into university, regardless of the quality of the qualification they achieve, or the career that they might be heading for, it is little surprise that employers now are not so interested in ‘graduates’ as they are graduates with a First, or a degree relevant to the job, or a Masters or higher, or they place greater store by the reputation of the institution awarding the bit of paper.

And it’s the obsession with “bits of paper” that has been a recurring theme in the working world beyond higher education. If you want to do almost any job these days – even skilled manual labour that previously would have been learnt by years of apprenticeship under an experienced elder – now requires a bit of paper. One wonders these days whether, if you’re responsible for making the tea, do you need a qualification? What if you spill some on someone – where’s your bit of paper to prove you were competent?

Anyway, back to degrees. As with any market, if you increase the supply artificially then you will depress the price – the value – of the good. There has also long been much talk of so-called “Mickey Mouse” degrees, in subjects that a few years’ back wouldn’t have even been taken seriously at A-level. If the Coalition does remove the cap on tuition fees, then we might start to see the real cost and value of those degrees. The job market will decide better than any funding bureaucrat what subjects will be worthwhile, just as it now has to differentiate between institutions and grades.

Perhaps also it will spell the end of the cruel deception that is played upon too many school leavers that going to uni and getting a degree will almost guarantee you a job. I genuinely pity all those young people with their degrees in ‘animation’ now wondering if they couldn’t have spent their time getting three years solid experience on their CV instead, and thus giving themselves a real edge in these testing times.

Perhaps it will send a slow shock wave back down the educational ladder and finally prompt a serious reassessment of the grading and value of A-levels and GCSEs, which have suffered from their own problems of grade inflation. Here too, there is a cruel reality for the young people taking the exams; while a few years’ back 5 A grades would have been a stunning result, today it is the minimum expected to even make the cut for many subjects in further and higher education.

As with the public finances and the credit crunch recesssion, it is the poltiicians of yesteryear who bequeathed us these problems, and the longer we leave the job of sorting it out, the more painful it will be.


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