Tuesday, 27 March 2012

To degree, or not to degree, that is the question.

This is probably going to become an old topic fairly soon, but I do think it is one that bears examination.

Let's start from the premise from The Advertiser today.  Expert argues uni degrees overrated.

In short, the writer vacillates between extolling the virtues of university degrees and landing on the fence of tafe/uni. The writer seems determined NOT to come up with a position, but sound like he is promoting a vital piece of information.

How about this:
"The Federal Government wants 40 per cent of Australians aged between 25 and 34 to have a bachelor degree by 2020. Skills Australia has estimated that in the five years to 2015 Australia will need an additional 2.1 million people in the workforce with a vocational education qualification at Certificate III level or higher."
"Great!" I thought, "he is going to talk about the value of bachelor degrees, or the use of other vocational training and proffer a viewpoint!" But no, he just started quoting people who had got jobs in menial trades (bricklaying) or who MIGHT be able to get a job in a patisserie. But that is beside the point.

Ok, so let's look at the current view point.

You are fresh out of school. You didn't do particularly well, and you aren't thrilled by the thought of studying something that no one else wants to study at uni, like Shoe Polishing, or Basket Weaving. Your options?

Many people will assume that since they couldn't get into uni, they are doomed to a life of hard manual labor, destined to end up on the pension when your body gives out. If you are lucky, that will be within 5 years so that you can spend your remaining youth dole-bludging. 

This viewpoint, however irrational, is backed up by a societal distaste for non-university qualifications. Studying at TAFE is not looked upon as a path for an intelligent, ambitious person. I think I could dedicate an entire essay to why this is, starting with the old-school Oxford prestige.

Whatever the reason, many of our bright-but-not-scholarly youth will leave school with no idea how they are going to get a job doing something more interesting that digging holes for the council, and as a result, most of them end up digging holes for the council. Some of them even do it voluntarily. 

However TAFE, or other vocational based training centres, are a far more useful educational tool than most people realise. TAFE offers courses in things such as Paralegal training; it sure isn't a LLB, but my secretary knows more about Family Law than I do after 3 years studying part-time at TAFE. 

TAFE also offers business management courses that are far more practical than commerce, economics, or similar bachelor degrees. I mean, sure. If you have a bachelor of Business Management and Commerce, I am sure you can read the stock market like a pro, but do you have any idea how to hire and fire?

Then you have the snobbery associated with university degrees. There are some things that should never have been taught at university, but have become the sole possession of the unis. Nursing, for example, should never have been a uni subject. The practical aspects of that training would be far better taught at a vocational institution like a TAFE. Similarly, Teaching. Sure you want your child's teachers to be well educated, but surely a 3-year course at TAFE would be better than a rushed post-graduate course in one year at a uni?

There are other considerations, such as cost/benefit: most TAFE courses are far cheaper to run than uni degrees. 

So what needs to happen is that universities need to dump degrees that are purely vocational and stick to their traditional professions; IE engineering, law, medicine (but not medical sub-roles, such as nursing, etc). That way high school graduates will not go to uni to do a useless degree because they thing they are expected to, or because they think they will get a job out of it. Instead they need to be encouraged to look at what they want to do, and find more practical ways of achieving that. If a kid is a jock and wants to be a PT, don't make him study medicine or anatomical biology or even human kinetics, get him to attend a Personal Trainer course at a TAFE where he will be working and enjoying his job within 2 years.

And the writers at The Advertiser need to stick their thumbs out and come to a god damned conclusion once in a while!

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