Are degrees over-rated?

The Business of Universities: a three part report on the major issues facing the future of tertiary education in Australia.

Part 2.

Universities have become degree printing factories and have placed so much emphasis on the need for people to obtain such an expensive piece of paper, that supply has increasingly outstripped demand. As a result, there is now an oversupply of people with degrees, in particular undergraduates. There was a time when a degree was considered enough qualification and you could hypothetically wave it around, knowing there was a strong possibility that you would receive employment. Now an undergraduate is only a small piece of the puzzle, if you really want to make your mark, you are told you now need to complete Honours, Masters, or a PhD. But more importantly, employers want to know if you have experience, because above your level of education, experience has become the new deciding factor. In many job advertisements, it is more commonplace than not for the selection criteria to express the need for a certain amount of previous experience in the role being applied for. Degrees have become so common that experience is the only thing that is going to set you apart from the rest, yet strangely enough, I was not once given such advice during my time at university, or was aware of anyone who was.

Universities like to remind us that a degree is the key to a brighter future, but they fail to mention how few graduates actually find work in their chosen field of study. They fail to mention how many graduates get a job that didn’t require a degree to begin with. They fail to mention that it’s no longer just a single degree that’s important, it is also additional certificates and qualifications and another period of study which is required before you meet industry standards (and then still you haven’t got the experience!). They fail to mention that it is a very competitive world and that when you graduate, you will be one amongst thousands of other graduates nationwide with a similar, if not the same degree as yours, all vying for the limited amount of positions available in your chosen field of work.

Sure, there are many professions that do require a degree like nursing or teaching, and I’m not alluding to the entire system being flawed, but I am alluding to there being many flaws in the system. Many people credit their time at university for teaching them how to think critically and problem solve but ultimately there is a significant number of graduates who never find work in their field of study, who may never earn more than the minimum wage and therefor are never able to pay back their student loan.

How long will student debt continue to grow before the severity of if its size is taken into consideration? Are we to follow the same path as the United States and accumulate a student debt that is currently USD $1.53 Trillion as of 2018. It only takes the wrong politician to push for a further increase in the current cost of education and a trillion-dollar debt doesn’t seem to unrealistic. I bet your wondering what the universities have to say to all of this, what their solution might be? As a recent graduate who is finding out first hand that a degree no longer caries the same amount of significance as it once did, the university I attended foresaw that this might be a problem and did the most logical thing it could possibly think of; It invited to me to enrol in further study.

After I finished my undergraduate degree, the university I attended inundated me with emails explaining that they were really pleased with the way I had performed throughout my course and how beneficial it would be for me to enrol in any one of the current courses on offer. Had I enrolled and completed that additional qualification I’m sure I would again have been invited to stay in the system and study for the next qualification available and so forth.

It was with this inundation of emails that I realised with such clarity that as much as my university was insinuating its desire to help me make the best choices for my future, they ultimately did not give a care in the world about my future or my personal welfare or what I studied. In truth, they just wanted me in their system and never wanted me to leave, because I was a student and to them, a student is just a source of income. Nothing else.

Understanding the dynamics of how universities have come to operate, also demands explanation of another major concern which is evident throughout the tertiary education system in Australia, and that is; domestic students are no longer the priority.

The following report will discuss how international students have become the new target audience for the tertiary education system in Australia and what some of the consequences may be.