A degree with a dead end

Unemployment levels are rising and a
university education is getting increasingly expensive. Sarah-Kate Caughey questions the usefulness of a degree: is it really worth it?

Unemployment levels are rising and a
university education is getting increasingly expensive. Sarah-Kate Caughey questions the usefulness of a degree: is it really worth it?

“Education is a right, not a privilege” was the echoing chant of Trinity students on their exit from Front Arch a few weeks ago in protest against the re-introduction of fees for third level students. Taking this into consideration, even the most out of touch academics among us have to consider the question; is it really worth it? Third level education has been greatly encouraged in Ireland in recent years, but is it all it’s cracked up to be, taking the current economic situation into account? Has it had its moment of glory, now left out in the cold? We are all here to get a qualification of some sort, but what if it’s all a waste when you get out into the real world and find that there are just no jobs there for you?

If this is the case, why should we bother struggling for those extra five points in the Leaving Cert and just pack all academic learning in after secondary school? Why not apply for a job as a civil servant and work in the government, where job security is high and stress is relatively low?

It seems that this plan for re-introducing fees has been put to bed; politicians are asleep and out of touch with reality while the rest of us have been left with a severe case of insomnia. We recognise the benefits of sticking with it for as long as we possibly can because it is a right not a privilege. But what if your degree stands for nothing at the end? Has it just become another social commodity or does it still have the power to stand you apart from the rest on the career ladder?

Life as a Celtic tiger cub has been pretty sweet up until now, that is before this big black cloud dubbed “The Recession”. This notion has descended upon us, dampening all our spirits in one way or another and showering us with unwanted parental drivel, warning; “In my day, I hadn’t a shilling” or another favourite, “The young ones these days don’t know what has hit them”.

In fact, we do know what is hitting us; it’s just not in the same context as the expression is usually so fondly used. We know that the current economic climate is uncertain; we understand the impact yet we fail to see that a degree is not the answer to our problems for the future. This Emerald Isle is turning out more third level graduates in the last ten years than ever before with almost 75% of school leavers today going on to college. But will our efforts have been a waste of time?

The truth is, no one really knows. A lot has to be said for embarking on a career straight out of school with no degree behind you. At least this way, you are guaranteed to have some financial stability in four years time, unlike a student studying an arts degree, such as myself, with no exact vocation in mind.

“Four years’ work experience can be considerably more valuable (and cheaper) than the same amount of time spent at university”

Obviously it depends on one’s chosen profession, but certainly in plumbing, film production, radio presenting and journalism; all well-respected, necessary, well-paid jobs, four years’ work experience can be considerably more valuable (and cheaper) than the same amount of time spent at university. Or working in the Garda Síochána for example. This is one job which offers stability and a good standard wage regardless of the economic climate. There will always be a need for Gardai to patrol the streets. The annual wage for a new member of the Garda Síochána today is in or around €26,000. This will increase to at least €38,000 within ten years with job specification. Perks also include exceedingly good holidays and overtime opportunities. This is just one of the many jobs which could actually pay reasonably well, putting your current degree in perspective depending on your field of choice. The truth is, none of us seem to know where we are going and if we can even get a job after 4 years. Whether you are studying film or business, theology or geography, we are facing the same situation; possibly unemployable and likely oblivious to it.

It seemed the day would never come that not even a BESS student would be guaranteed job security. Yet, looking at the facts, we are now faced with uncertainty and we hear of increasing numbers of engineers becoming accountants and economics students going on to work in areas completely irrelevant to their degree.

So what happens to us? We end up in careers that we could have gone into anyway straight out of school. Look at Film Studies students for example – Who can actually say they went into that degree programme with a feeling of ease at the notion of high employment rates at the end of it? My point exactly!

The way things are going, why not take the government’s advice literally and “economise” with the times and save yourself a couple of grand a year from September 2009 and work your way up in whatever area of interest you choose? In any case, most people go on to work in areas that are irrelevant to their degree.

Ruarí Quinn of the Labour Party studied Architecture. Alas, to add insult to injury, one of Ireland’s best-known media figures, Pat Kenny, studied chemical engineering, some suggest he should have stayed there. If you look the workforce, you will find that the vast majority just worked their way up.

You probably think I am barking mad to be even questioning the relevance of a college degree, above all writing it in a college newspaper, but I’m going to form my own explanation for why you disagree with me.

It would seem to me that you are suffering from what I call “Trinity Syndrome”. symptoms include an inability to interact with the rest of society on a deep level due to incapability to see beyond one’s arrogant notion of pure superiority.

Come on and admit it! We all have encountered this “ailment” at some point during our time here in Trinity, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. The prognosis, I’m afraid, for this mental illness is bleak: I don’t believe there is any cure for us poor unfortunates who happen to go to indisputably the best university in Ireland.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with pride in your college; but to parade around with the notion that a third level degree from Trinity solves all will not get you far.

Nothing in life comes easily, experience gained in college can work to your advantage but a bit of hard work and determination usually goes further than an undergraduate degree.

If all that is in our heads is this religious-like creed that a degree is the answer to all our prayers, guess who is going to spend the coming years with an empty bank account which not even a “Trinity” degree can repair?