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Value of higher education

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GuyBarry
1244254.  Wed Aug 02, 2017 10:02 am Reply with quote

After a period of (hopefully) sober reflection, I will attempt to summarize the discussion that's been taking place in the "Sexism redux" thread, which veered off-topic some time ago. This was the paragraph of mine that triggered the debate:

GuyBarry wrote:
I have always advocated that, unless an employer can demonstrate that a particular qualification is directly relevant to a job, they shouldn't be able to impose any restrictions on the educational background of applicants. Those advertisements that say "Graduates of any discipline required" should be banned in my view. If the job requires a qualification in a particular field, then state it. If it doesn't, then anyone should be allowed to apply who has the necessary skills and experience. It seems thoroughly unfair to expect people to get themselves into thousands of pounds' worth of debt just so that they can apply for a simple admin job.


PDR and suze then both put forward arguments for why it was valid to advertise for graduates of any discipline. PDR said:

PDR wrote:
The requirement for a degree is there for the same reason it has always been there - it shows that the person is capable of studying and comprehending a subject (any subject) to a particular depth. of critically appraising information and of assimilating data to extract information. In some fields a certain facility in maths (not arithmetic) is needed, but that facility is shown in any of a huge range of "numerate" degrees from BSc geography to theoretical physics. So actually it is perfectly valid to say "we want a grad, but we don't care about what they read".


Suze said that the choice of subject was important in education, but continued:

suze wrote:
But in some other fields, I'm quite happy with the notion of a graduate, subject unimportant. You'll note that quite a lot of lawyers have a degree in another subject, and then take a one year grad course to convert to the law. In that year they learn what the law is, a thing that they clearly do need to know - but the other skills needed of a lawyer are acquired in just about any degree course which involves writing essays.

I know that PDR doesn't entirely agree with this one, but I tend to think that the same applies to accountancy. The actual math knowledge needed by an accountant is not advanced; when it comes down to it, it's mostly arithmetic and almost all of it is covered at GCSE. What an accountant does need to know is all manner of rules and regulations, practices and procedures. Most of that stuff isn't especially difficult, but there's a lot of it that an accountant must know. Accordingly, any degree which requires the student to learn a lot of apparently abstract bookwork provides a suitable grounding.


In the subsequent discussion I pointed out that my own degree (maths) fitted neither PDR's requirement of "critically appraising information and of assimilating data to extract information" nor suze's requirement of "writing essays", and that their examples appeared to undermine their own arguments. I might add that my own degree does fit the criterion of "requiring the student to learn a lot of apparently abstract bookwork", but there are plenty of others that don't (such as Music Performance, cited by PDR).

There have been a number of side-issues, but I regard this as the crux of the debate. Is there a set of skills, shared by all graduates, that non-graduates don't possess? And if so, what are they? I don't believe that there are, and I think if you ask ten different people what "graduate skills" are they'll give you ten different answers. PDR has already said that his company looks for different qualifications for project management, for finance apprentices, and for engineering apprentices - and that's precisely what I'd expect.

So PDR's claim that "we'll take a degree in any discipline, 2:1 or above" is highly misleading in my view. His company appears to be quite discriminating about the qualifications of its recruits. He's said that he wouldn't accept someone with a degree in Music Performance, for instance.

The remark that I took exception to (for which I again apologize) was this:

Quote:
ALL of these degrees would be expected to be at 2:1 or higher, because we only take achievers.


To say that anyone who hasn't got a 2:1 at university isn't an "achiever" is, in my opinion, insulting. There are lots of ways of demonstrating achievement beyond passing university exams. Some of the brightest, most dedicated people I know don't have university degrees. Others do, but didn't manage a 2:1. (My own degree was an undivided second, but it would have been in the lower half of the range. It didn't stop me from carrying on with postgraduate work.)

There might be all sorts of reasons why students don't get a 2:1 - maybe they chose the wrong modules, or they were unlucky with their exam questions, or they were just fed up with the subject. In my case I felt hopelessly out of my depth during the third year of study and was grateful not to get a Third.

Personally, I think it's an achievement to get into university and get through a degree programme at all. I feel very sorry for anyone nowadays who runs up a load of student debt and is then told that their qualifications aren't good enough. They've still got the same amount to pay back. As I said in the other thread, I'm not surprised that some students make a deliberate decision not to.

I really think the current system is in urgent need of reform. It's not serving anyone well - the employers, the students, the taxpayer. Here in Bath, where we have two universities in a relatively small city, many people are getting resentful about the amount of student accommodation that's being built when local people can't afford to live here. The expansion of higher education may have been motivated by a sense of egalitarianism, but it's creating worse social divisions.

 
cornixt
1244257.  Wed Aug 02, 2017 10:29 am Reply with quote

Wall of text there.

Let's start simply - if you are likely to get a lot of applicants, then a simple qualification cut off will get rid of most of the chaff. A 2:1 degree in anything at least shows a certain amount of discipline. You might not advertise more detailed requirements for the role, such as the degree being relevant or a certain amount of other experience, but you have a shorter list to work with. It might cut out a lot of excellent applicants but you can afford to do so if you have enough already.

 
PDR
1244258.  Wed Aug 02, 2017 10:34 am Reply with quote

GuyBarry wrote:

The remark that I took exception to (for which I again apologize) was this:

Quote:
ALL of these degrees would be expected to be at 2:1 or higher, because we only take achievers.


To say that anyone who hasn't got a 2:1 at university isn't an "achiever" is, in my opinion, insulting.


You are quite right - the remark was intended to be a bit tongue-in-cheek but that clearly didn't come across and I can only apologise for any offence it caused.

But we do have this entry criterion for our grad scheme. I thought I knew the reason for it but I've just called the L&D team to confirm and I find that I'm "half right". I had assumed that it was because our scheme philosophy is one of only taking the best and offering them high rewards for hard work. It turns out that this is true.

But there is a second, pragmatic reason. Places on our scheme are sought-after - we pay more and offer better opportunities than most. Our schemes are always oversubscribed with applicants (hundreds of applicants for each place) and we can't even assess that many applications, let alone put them through the 2-3 day assessment process. So we need some way of stratifying the applicants, and it needs to be one that doesn't fall foul of discrimination laws. So the simple solution is to say that for the Grad Scheme we only take the best, and a 2:1 or higher is needed to make the first cut and be considered for further assessment. There have been occasions when we have taken lower quals, but these relate to cases where a particular event has changed an expectation - the universities know how to ask for that, but they also know that we react badly to the channel being abused!

PDR

 
PDR
1244259.  Wed Aug 02, 2017 10:48 am Reply with quote

GuyBarry wrote:

There have been a number of side-issues, but I regard this as the crux of the debate. Is there a set of skills, shared by all graduates, that non-graduates don't possess? And if so, what are they? I don't believe that there are, and I think if you ask ten different people what "graduate skills" are they'll give you ten different answers. PDR has already said that his company looks for different qualifications for project management, for finance apprentices, and for engineering apprentices - and that's precisely what I'd expect.

So PDR's claim that "we'll take a degree in any discipline, 2:1 or above" is highly misleading in my view. His company appears to be quite discriminating about the qualifications of its recruits. He's said that he wouldn't accept someone with a degree in Music Performance, for instance.


OK, I can see how this might confuse. Firstly I should be clear that when I said that I look for different qualifications for finance, commercial, procurement or PM grads I mean ME (not the company). If I saw an engineering grad applying for a commercial grad apprenticeship I would be digging much deeper into why they had chosen that path than I would if it had been a History or Economics grad, but I'm not the only assessor and our process deliberately uses many disparate assessors to get different opinions. I (and the other engineering assessors) can only "enforce" such a view for engineering grads. But the actual scheme will process anyone with an expected grade of 2:1 upwards in any subject for the non-engineering posts, and any "numerate" subject for the engineering posts. The next stage at which anyone might be rejected would be after a study of their application and personal statement, at which point the ranking of the quals is actually reduced in the assessment scoring.

After that it would be down to assessment day performance in individual and group work, and in 1-to-1 interview.

FWIW the applicants I assessed for engineering grad places few weeks back were mostly physicists (all expecting 1sts) and a few maths (again expecting 1sts) - no engineering grads. I'm not sure what that means!

PDR

 
GuyBarry
1244260.  Wed Aug 02, 2017 10:50 am Reply with quote

cornixt wrote:
Wall of text there.


Well it's been quite a long and complex discussion, and I was trying to be fair to my opponents in the debate. Sorry if I overwhelmed you.

Quote:
Let's start simply - if you are likely to get a lot of applicants, then a simple qualification cut off will get rid of most of the chaff.


And that's precisely the problem. People without suitable qualifications are regarded as "chaff". You wouldn't be allowed to say that about people on grounds of gender, race, religion, nationality, age, disability, sexual orientation or anything else. Why is it legitimate to discriminate against people without degrees? Particularly when it's impossible to get a degree nowadays without incurring significant debt?

This whole policy is creating a new division between the "haves" and the "have-nots". A majority of people in this country do not have degrees, and probably never will do. Yet apparently it's acceptable to dismiss the majority of the population as "chaff". That's not part of my vision for a fair society.

 
PDR
1244265.  Wed Aug 02, 2017 11:14 am Reply with quote

GuyBarry wrote:
You wouldn't be allowed to say that about people on grounds of gender, race, religion, nationality, age, disability, sexual orientation or anything else. Why is it legitimate to discriminate against people without degrees?


On a point of order, you have this back to front. There is a specific law which makes it illegal for employers to unreasonably discriminate on the basis of nine specific characteristics - age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion/belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage/civil partnership, and pregnancy/maternity, known as the "protected" characteristics"[1].

Employers are free to discriminate on any other basis as much as they wish. They are also free to discriminate "reasonably" even within these nine characteristics - it would be quite legal to exclude wheelchair users from jobs as test pilots or blind people from track driver jobs. According to the IPM companies can also discriminate where there is a genuine "business need", so they could say "we can't have anyone over 50 in this team because everyone else is under 25 and they all go away for weekends together so they wouldn't fit in" but this view hasn't been tested in court as far as I know.

But the point is that there is know law against discriminating on the basis of the "or anything else" bit, and being a non-graduate is not one of the nine protected characteristics so it's very much a free-fire zone.

PDR

[1] The Equality Act 2010

 
cnb
1244268.  Wed Aug 02, 2017 11:18 am Reply with quote

GuyBarry wrote:
People without suitable qualifications are regarded as "chaff". You wouldn't be allowed to say that about people on grounds of gender, race, religion, nationality, age, disability, sexual orientation or anything else. Why is it legitimate to discriminate against people without degrees? Particularly when it's impossible to get a degree nowadays without incurring significant debt?


It's not permissible to discriminate on the grounds of something people have no reasonable choice over (religion being an odd exception that's given special treatment). You can discriminate using choices the applicant made, and that includes whether they chose to study for a degree.

If a degree gives you access to jobs that non-graduates can't get, then the degree has a value. It's up to you as an individual student to determine whether the value of the degree in the job market exceeds the costs. The calculation will be very different depending on the field of study, the type of job you aspire to do, and the cost of living in the area in which you want to live.

In the case of PDR's graduate engineering scheme the starting salary is 28,000, compared to an average 21/22-year-old who earns about half that. On 28,000 the loan repayments are 630 per year. Whether the degree is worth it seems like an easy calculation.

 
PDR
1244269.  Wed Aug 02, 2017 11:21 am Reply with quote

Only for grads in numerate subjects, perhaps...

:0)

PDR

 
GuyBarry
1244272.  Wed Aug 02, 2017 11:37 am Reply with quote

cnb wrote:
GuyBarry wrote:
People without suitable qualifications are regarded as "chaff". You wouldn't be allowed to say that about people on grounds of gender, race, religion, nationality, age, disability, sexual orientation or anything else. Why is it legitimate to discriminate against people without degrees? Particularly when it's impossible to get a degree nowadays without incurring significant debt?


It's not permissible to discriminate on the grounds of something people have no reasonable choice over (religion being an odd exception that's given special treatment). You can discriminate using choices the applicant made, and that includes whether they chose to study for a degree.


But a lot of people don't have reasonable choice over whether they study for a degree. They're pressurized into it by their school, their family, their friends. You actually have to be quite brave now to resist the pressure. In fact, you could argue that young people without degrees have demonstrated a greater independence of mind than their peers who have chosen to go to university.

Quote:
In the case of PDR's graduate engineering scheme the starting salary is 28,000, compared to an average 21/22-year-old who earns about half that. On 28,000 the loan repayments are 630 per year. Whether the degree is worth it seems like an easy calculation.


Well I've never earned 28,000 a year or anything like it, and I don't expect to.

If this sort of training is so important to employers, why don't they pay for it? Why do they expect the burden to fall on students and taxpayers?

 
PDR
1244274.  Wed Aug 02, 2017 11:53 am Reply with quote

GuyBarry wrote:

But a lot of people don't have reasonable choice over whether they study for a degree. They're pressurized into it by their school, their family, their friends. You actually have to be quite brave now to resist the pressure. In fact, you could argue that young people without degrees have demonstrated a greater independence of mind than their peers who have chosen to go to university.


My eldest daughter decided not to go to Uni and got herself an apprenticeship (in "digital media marketing"). She's been doing that for nearly a year and is doing well. My youngest will be going to uni to do biochemistry because for her aspirations it's the only route. I wouldn't classify either of them as especially brave in those decisions - just self-aware.

Quote:

Quote:
In the case of PDR's graduate engineering scheme the starting salary is 28,000, compared to an average 21/22-year-old who earns about half that. On 28,000 the loan repayments are 630 per year. Whether the degree is worth it seems like an easy calculation.


Well I've never earned 28,000 a year or anything like it, and I don't expect to.

If this sort of training is so important to employers, why don't they pay for it? Why do they expect the burden to fall on students and taxpayers?


We DO pay for it - we pay the higher salaries which repay that student debt.

PDR

 
suze
1244275.  Wed Aug 02, 2017 11:55 am Reply with quote

PDR wrote:
According to the IPM companies can also discriminate where there is a genuine "business need", so they could say "we can't have anyone over 50 in this team because everyone else is under 25 and they all go away for weekends together so they wouldn't fit in" but this view hasn't been tested in court as far as I know.


It has been, but possibly not recently. The trusty A level Law textbook - it was once my stepdaughter's, even though she never studied A level Law - is fifteen years old, but it mentions a case concerning a factory in Blackburn.

The third shift were all South Asian women and habitually talked among themselves in Urdu. Further, many of the workers were in the habit of wearing only underwear beneath their work overalls, and would sit around in bra and knickers when in the break room.

When a vacancy arose, the employer specified "Must be a woman and speak Urdu". When that went to court, his first argument - that it would not be proper for a man to share a break room with women in their smalls - was rejected. It was noted that the management and most of the workforce were Muslim, and that consequently there were already separate prayer rooms for men and women. Separate break rooms could easily be provided if necessary.

But the employer's second argument - that a person who was not a woman Urdu speaker would find it difficult to bond with the shift team - was accepted, even though a man Mongolian speaker could do the work as well as anyone else.

So the "wouldn't fit in" argument certainly used to hold water, although that is not necessarily to say that a court would reach the same decision now.

 
cnb
1244276.  Wed Aug 02, 2017 11:58 am Reply with quote

GuyBarry wrote:

But a lot of people don't have reasonable choice over whether they study for a degree. They're pressurized into it by their school, their family, their friends. You actually have to be quite brave now to resist the pressure. In fact, you could argue that young people without degrees have demonstrated a greater independence of mind than their peers who have chosen to go to university.

Most people want to earn more money in order to be able to afford a higher standard of living. They assume that others want the same. If you're honest enough to say "I want to be poor" then I expect the pressure will go away. People will think you're very odd, but they'll understand why you don't want to go to university.

GuyBarry wrote:

Well I've never earned 28,000 a year or anything like it, and I don't expect to.


Ever? There can't be many people with three degrees who never earn above average salary. The system is designed (badly, see below) to deal with the general case, not outliers like yourself. I imagine that most people with high-level qualifications and low incomes are in that situation because of a deliberate choice to do something they consider worthy, or because of caring responsibilities at home. There are not many such people.
You may not wish to tell us, and that's fine, but it would be interesting to know why you don't want to, or can't, earn more given your qualifications.


GuyBarry wrote:

If this sort of training is so important to employers, why don't they pay for it? Why do they expect the burden to fall on students and taxpayers?


Employers who pay decent salaries to graduates (like PDR's, or mine) do pay for it. They pay through those salaries which are then used to pay back the loans and also pay higher taxes.

The problem is that the current system creates half a market. Almost all degrees cost the same, but they have very different values in the job market. A system which allows an unlimited number of people to study degrees of little value and then fail to earn enough to repay the loan means that general taxation has to prop up the system. If there was a better link between the course and its job-market value there would be less (or no) need for subsidy.

 
PDR
1244277.  Wed Aug 02, 2017 11:59 am Reply with quote

Thanks Suze - you have updated my understanding!

PDR

 
suze
1244278.  Wed Aug 02, 2017 12:00 pm Reply with quote

PDR wrote:
We DO pay for it - we pay the higher salaries which repay that student debt.

PDR


In any case, it would be tricky for the firm to pay off the employee's student debt directly even were it minded to. That would probably be taxable as a benefit in kind, and chances are that it's better for the employee to have it in salary rather than in this way.

That said, direct repayment of student debts by the employer is a thing in some industries in the US. Not in Britain, as far as I'm aware.

 
cnb
1244280.  Wed Aug 02, 2017 12:08 pm Reply with quote

suze wrote:

That said, direct repayment of student debts by the employer is a thing in some industries in the US. Not in Britain, as far as I'm aware.


In the long-forgotten days of the 1990s when I went to university, student loans in the UK operated more like conventional bank loans. Once I graduated and hit a threshold income I started making repayments from my net salary by direct debit, and 60 such monthly payments covered the capital and interest. When I bought my first flat a year or so before the loan was settled, I was able to pay off the outstanding capital with a bank transfer (because it meant I could get a slightly bigger mortgage) just like a normal loan.

Back in those days, there were companies who would pay off your loan in full if you joined their graduate scheme (with some minimum service period required to avoid clawback).

My loan was only about 6,000 though, and that was about average at the time.

 

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