Willy Hutton on postgraduates

So what? There are no votes in this issue. Few care. Yet this is one of the fastest-growing components of the British workforce. More than 11% of thirtysomethings hold some form of postgraduate degree, increasingly imperative if you want to build a career in anything from the media through medicine to hi-tech business. There is proper and enormous focus on widening access to university for disadvantaged minorities for first degrees, but first degrees are no longer the passport to economic and social mobility that they used to be. The knowledge intensity and cognitive demands of a growing number of jobs today require intense intellectual training and the growth of postgraduate degrees reflects that reality.

Hmm.

Certainly possible to look at it all as credentialism. Now that 50% go to uni for a first degree, we need some other method of sorting the wheat from the chaff. Thus the rush to postgraduate degrees as in the US.

To which the obvious solution is to cut back first degrees to 10-15% of the population and we\’re done.

The rest of it is how much more government money should be spent on this vital university sector.

Will Hutton is principal of Hertford College, Oxford

Fancy that, Willy Hutton is calling for subsidy for Willy Hutton. I am shocked.

13 comments on “Willy Hutton on postgraduates

  1. Utter, utter bollocks. PhDs are increasingly required? Maybe in the sense that hardly anyone used to give a shit and now slightly less than hardly anyone gives a shit.

    My business is IT/high tech and believe me, if it’s between a phd and someone with three good years of work experience, the latter will win.

  2. Sometimes people do a Masters because they failed to get a First or Upper Second for their Bachelors.

    (Should those be “Master’s” and “Bachelor’s”?)

  3. For an individual leaving uni with a decent degree but no job it might be worth doing a masters while waiting for the recession to end. (How many baristas with chemistry degrees eventually get hired as chemists?)

    Whether that masters is useful for society is moot.

  4. I’ve met plenty of people in my field with masters. Usually paid for partly by employers or wholly funded by the person themselves. Many have got the masters in the past decade – not with state funding.

    Perhaps postgrad education should be something that a minority of graduates ever do, and mostly because they need it or it furthers their career? Certainly didn’t seem to be a shortage of postgrad students at my old uni. Last year.

  5. bloke in france,

    For an individual leaving uni with a decent degree but no job it might be worth doing a masters while waiting for the recession to end. (How many baristas with chemistry degrees eventually get hired as chemists?)

    It depends on the field, I think. In a field like IT, doing an MSc will open a few extra doors (Pixar hire people with MScs in their animation tools division, although you generally also have to have a specialisation in 3D animation), but most IT departments set a barrier of BSc and then look at things like the person, experience, etc. And of course, you’re going to be paying more fees for the MSc.

    The real problem is too many people doing degrees that no-one cares about. Who wants someone with a doctorate in Women’s Studies over a BSc in engineering? No-one cares how smart you are. They care about what you can do for them, and very few people need a research paper into phallocentricism or feminism writing.

  6. It’s hard to get a job as a proper chemist with just a masters – after all, there’s a surplus of people with doctorates.

  7. The real problem is too many people doing degrees that no-one cares about.

    The old argument about that is that you’re not learning specific, useful knowledge, but how to think, research, evaluate stuff, etc, all skills that are supposed to make you attractive to an employer. The idea is that someone with a doctorate in medieval French poetry has proven their ability to handle a junior grade executive job and work their way up through the company.

    Problem is, the 70s conglomerates have flattened out and those middle management positions, by and large, no longer exist – ask Dilbert’s Scott Adams for instance. Someone has to make the coffee though.

  8. Ltw,

    The old argument about that is that you’re not learning specific, useful knowledge, but how to think, research, evaluate stuff, etc, all skills that are supposed to make you attractive to an employer. The idea is that someone with a doctorate in medieval French poetry has proven their ability to handle a junior grade executive job and work their way up through the company.

    The people writing in The Guardian would suggest otherwise.

  9. ….some form of postgraduate degree, increasingly imperative if you want to build a career in anything from the media ……

    Seeing as we live in an era where any idiot with a blogger account is a journalist that is a strange assertion.

  10. Will Hutton is repeating the Millionaireband lie that working-class kids are those hurt by fees which is arrant nonsense because grants are income-based and working-class kids going to Oxford will end up with very little debt thanks to government grants and college bursaries. It is middle-class kids who will end up with debts.
    What the growth of postgraduate degrees reflects is the debasement of the first degree at the former polytechnics/technical colleges that are now labelled “universities”: e.g. second year of a maths and psychology degree including stuff I learned when I was 15.

  11. It’s a global labour market, though. Even for those jobs where a PhD doesn’t really make you that much better, employers are going to be inclined to take the PhD over a BSc or an MSc – and if the US universities are turning out huge numbers of masters and doctors then why should employers not take them over Brits with a bachelors?

    Post-graduate degrees also help a lot in terms of points when immigrating into other countries – try getting an H1B visa into the US with only a bachelors, for example.

  12. there is a crash coming in the UK higher education sector. It grew massively on the back of the major/Blair expansion and now the effect s that you need to be a PhD to get a job as a nurse. Tuition fees are going to thin out the sector quite nastily over the next few years.

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