Friday, 7 January 2011

university grade inflation

Over in the UK, the Telegraph has been becoming exercised about the dumbing down of university degrees - grade inflation in other words, where more an more people are given a higher grade.

And while one expects a degree of variation year on year long term one would expect that the ratio of firsts to upper seconds to lower seconds would remain roughly constant over time.

Now in one sense this doesn't matter. Having a degree shows that you have read and understood a lot of complex material and produce sensible conclusions from it, and acquired a range of discipline appropriate skills, some of less use than others - in my case the stand out for long term uselessness was being able to hold a rat with one hand while colour coding its tail with the other.

After you graduate, no one is ever going to ask you to colour code rodents, discuss the use of religious imagery in Tudor writing, or use formal methods to prove an algorithm. Employers on the whole want to know if you're clever and well read and can say interesting things. (Oh, and have a definite work ethic). And after ten years or so it doesn't matter a damn if you've got a degree or not, or where you got it from.

Mind you having that bit of paper that says that you have a 2:1 from the University of Poppleton does help open doors initially - or not depending on the reputation of the university concerned. And that is really all a degree is - a bit of paper that says 'this person is probably competent, reasonably literate, and has some knowledge of x'. The degree class is not terribly relevant, after all if you're recruiting someone for a marketing job you probably care more about their time producing drama, or organising student protests, than what their actual degree was.

Of course things are not so straight forward. Employers do like to claim that their staff have better degrees from better universities, if only due to the vague feeling that they make better employees long term.

So, if most people have high scoring degrees we will see that employers (and most people do go to employment) start looking for other discriminants, such as professional certifications, MBA's, and so on, so that they can say we have a highly qualified workforce with above average qualifications - and therefore a better more flexible workforce.

This of course, is a delusion on their part, as actually they are trying to recruit people who look as if they can do the job, fit in, and possibly put back more than they get out of the job. After all very few recent graduates have ever done any 'real' middle class style professional work.

And that's even true of the professions. Most lawyers end up doing jobbing conveyancing and wills, most medical doctors end up doing fairly routine medicine. Mostly they need to be highly competent and practiced and know how to spot a problem - and that comes from experience, not qualifications or where they studied ...

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