Education arms race

 
 

Given the suggestion that a masters degree is the new bachelor’s, Laura Woulfe considers what this means for those who cannot afford one

Entering the final semester of your undergraduate degree, you are suddenly reminded of the days spent filling out your CAO form to the background buzz of your school career guidance counsellor flippantly assuring that by the time you finish university, hopefully employment will once again be on the rise.

However, here you are, three or four years later and ready to take on the world, but the world is refusing to take on you because your Bachelor’s degree is no longer sufficient to get you that dream job.

This bleak employment outlook has led to more and more Irish graduates applying for further education in order to boost their employment opportunities and to give them the edge that employers are so keen to find on a two-page CV.

While a Bachelor’s degree was once the desired level of qualification by most employers, with rising numbers of young people opting to enrol in third-level education, the Bachelor’s degree is starting to look a lot like the Leaving Cert 30 years ago.

The Department of Education and Skills estimated that the higher level of participation is now over 65%, of which approximately 47% planned to continue on to further education.

Considering that the majority of full-time Masters courses in UCD are priced between about €5,000 and €6,000, with a number of the courses in UCD’s College of Business and Law costing up to €12,900, the cost of post-graduate education means that for many people obtaining a postgraduate degree is just not feasible.

What results is a possible class division between those who can afford to continue onto further education and those who cannot. A study published by The Sutton Trust in England warned that this “development risked edging poor students out of the race for top graduate jobs.”

A recent poll on Campus.ie that asked whether it is necessary for Irish students to emigrate immediately after graduation resulted in 11.9% of students claiming “No, I’ve chosen to continue studying” in comparison to 16.7% claiming “Yes, I can’t afford to continue studying.”

It seems that the growing need to validate one’s degree with a postgraduate qualification is more specific to certain fields of study. According to the Department of Education and Skills in the fourth Irish Eurostudent survey report, “Students from Humanities & Arts and Law had the highest percentages of students indicating that they intend to further their studies after graduation (60% and 58% respectively).”

It seems that for many hard-working commerce students, who are likely to be swept up in groves into large multi-national companies such as Deloitte or KPMG, further study is still necessary to achieve top positions, but there is higher chance of company funding.

Likewise, many science students get offered PhD’s without having to pay any course fee and often get even further funding for living costs due to the large amount of funding dedicated to scientific research.

In this sense, postgraduate degrees are not completely unattainable to poorer students, yet there still remains an injustice when a poorer student has to choose between fulfilling their dream of becoming an archaeologist or realising that in the long run they’re better off studying commerce.

However, not only can not having a postgraduate degree be a disadvantage to recent graduates, so too can having one. One of life’s many infuriating paradoxes, according to Ann Cahill from the Irish Examiner, one fifth of Irish young people are “considered to be over-educated, the third highest after Britain and Estonia, reflecting people choosing to stay studying rather than searching for jobs that are not there.”

So even after you worked two part-time jobs and took out a hefty student loan in an attempt to buy your future job, a job still isn’t guaranteed. Now, not only are you unable to get a job in The Irish Times, but McDonalds won’t hire you either because you are considered over-qualified and likely to get bored with your MA in Journalism.

The reality remains that in many cases, regardless of whether you have a Bachelor’s degree, a Masters degree or a PhD, there just aren’t enough entry-level graduate jobs in Ireland for the amount of students graduating each year.

Often a long list of educational qualifications can also put off employers of high position jobs as while they may not deem you overeducated, they may fear that the seven years you spent in college was just a way to avoid getting a real job. It seems that you just can’t win.

According to many employers, what they look for in graduates are the skills gained outside the classroom. The necessity for communication and team building skills seem to appear in job specs more often than postgraduate requirements. Therefore internships can be just as beneficial for getting your dream job as a postgraduate degree.

Over the last few years an increasing amount of junior internships have been advertised for recent graduates and while unpaid internships have received a lot of criticism for seemingly taking advantage of jobless graduates, taking on a nine-month unpaid internship role is still a lot less expensive than a postgraduate course.

According to gradireland, only 10.7% of leading graduate employers “weight postgraduate qualifications more heavily than relevant work experience.” So even for the students who can’t afford to pay for a postgraduate degree do an internship, apparently they are worth more but cost less.

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