‘Low value’ degrees

The government (and, apparently, Rishi Sunak in particular) thinks it can distinguish ‘low value’ degrees from others by what happens to students shortly afterwards.  The test of a higher value degree, it seems, is whether students obtain a professional job, go into postgraduate study or start a business.

Very few undergraduate degrees lead directly to a professional qualification; students will commonly have to go through an intermediate, professional stage in order to qualify for jobs.  What, then, are universities teaching when they offer courses in various sorts of ‘studies’ ? The answer is much the same as it would be for traditional degrees in English Literature, History or Philosophy.  Universities aren’t, for the most part, in the business of training; they’re engaged in higher education.   Students are being guided how to absorb information, select it, order it, evaluate it, and communicate it, and (increasingly) they are learning how to do that independently, without much further guidance.  Their future employers  are interested in the skills that graduates have, not in the specific knowledge they have gained during their studies.

If we ask why some courses have worse ‘outcomes’, the answer is unlikely to be found lurking in the specific knowledge area that the course has covered.  It’s much more likely to be a question of respect for the institution, status, and the background of the students.

My own first degree, for what it’s worth, was in Politics, Philosophy and Economics – the same low-value, airy-fairy course done by the likes of Rishi Sunak.  My parents disapproved.

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