Here’s a piece of radical Libertarian politics for you. The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, Svenskt Näringsliv, is a respectable mainstream employers’ organisation. Their people have identified a problem with the Swedish university system, viz, that unemployed people are entering undergraduate programs that do not actually make them employable. The Confederation points out the Humanities specifically. And they suggest a solution: students in these programs should not receive the same amount of study loans as other students.

I agree that the problem exists, but not with the suggested solution. The problem is actually due to the orthodox marketism that the Confederation espouses, where universities compete for students according to the students’ demand. If the students want an MA in queer Mickey Mouse studies, then that’s what Swedish universities will offer. Trouble is, the students are not making rational or informed choices. They do not know or care what education they need to have a decent career. They are 19 and choose on a whim.

My solution to the problem is to change whose demand decides what university programs will be offered. Don’t ask the students. Ask the employers, by means of the unemployment statistics. It is much cheaper for society as a whole if university teachers in jobless subjects are allowed to do research full time for a few years than if they have to educate a new generation of unemployed queer Mickey Mouse experts.

Via my buddy Ny Björn, who doesn’t share my views. See also DN and SvD.

Comments

  1. #1 Ola
    June 30, 2011

    I think that, for undergraduate purposes (which is what you start this post with, although you switch to MAs later), having the ability to explore is really important. A lot of “fluff” major people I know (history or english lit, for example) have received very good job offers from very competitive industries (e.g. consulting and finance). That being said, I am still an advocate of double-majoring if you want to pursue fluff you love – I did Biology and English Literature, and the combination has given me a lot more than I thought it ever could.

    That’s for undergrad – once you get into Master’s-land, the story’s a little bit different. Then again, when you’re of age to enter such a program, I feel like you have a better idea of what you’re getting into (and what jobs you won’t be getting)… or at least, you should.

    The only real issue I see with your idea is the possibility of over-saturation. At some point, job demand for given fields (say, underwater basket weaving) is going to go down, but you’ll have students who entered a four-year program two years ago when underwater basket weaving was the next big thing, and now they’re stuck in a program that will get them a job as likely as queer Mickey Mouse studies will.

  2. #2 Janne
    June 30, 2011

    Many students (most, sometimes) do not actually intend to major in the subject they study. They’re doing some engineering or economics degree, and fill up with art history, philosophy or gender studies to fulfil graduation requirements, to grab a few (relatively) easy credits or simply because the subject sounds interesting.

    If you size courses only to accommodate a future job market (and note how well that has worked in the case of medical students (not at all well (let’s all study Lisp!))) then you shut out a lot of “hum-curious” people. People that tend to select a large university over a smaller, focused school precisely because the huge array of subjects they potentially have available.

  3. #3 Martin R
    June 30, 2011

    A lot of “fluff” major people I know (history or english lit, for example) have received very good job offers from very competitive industries (e.g. consulting and finance).

    1. Are they in Sweden?

    2. Do you know what the relative frequency of this among fluff majors overall is like? Your friends may not be a representative sample.

    At some point, job demand for given fields (say, underwater basket weaving) is going to go down, but you’ll have students who entered a four-year program two years ago

    3. True, but that lag would still be way, way better than today’s unregulated system.

  4. #4 Martin R
    June 30, 2011

    Many students (most, sometimes) do not actually intend to major in the subject they study.

    In the Swedish system, I’d say the critical threshold is term 3, where you write your BA paper. That’s where the throttle should be applied.

    then you shut out a lot of “hum-curious” people. People that tend to select a large university over a smaller, focused school precisely because the huge array of subjects they potentially have available.

    Sorry, I don’t follow. Why is it valuable to anyone that these people study jobless subjects? What are you saying about schools of relative sizes?

  5. #5 David Marjanović
    June 30, 2011

    My solution to the problem is to change whose demand decides what university programs will be offered. Don’t ask the students. Ask the employers, by means of the unemployment statistics.

    I fear employers are short-sighted.

    And that’s not limited to private corporations. Austria has periodic gluts and shortages of teachers, each accompanied by panic: “ZOMG teh teachurz! They swamp everything! Don’t study to become a teacher, or you’ll be unemployed!!1!1!” “ZOMG teh teachurz! There are no more left! Urgently study to become a teacher — you’ll be guaranteed a job!!1!1! And think of the children!1!!”

    Every 10 years or so, Austrian teachers retire en masse. Nobody could possibly foresee this as much as 2 years in advance, so it triggers the next shortage. It blows the mind.

  6. #6 Martin R
    June 30, 2011

    Disregarding the wider systemic repercussions on inflation etc., I’d sure prefer to operate on a labour market with periodic scarcity than on one with constant glut.

  7. #7 Phillip IV
    June 30, 2011

    Ask the employers, by means of the unemployment statistics.

    I’d have to respectfully disagree on that one. Universities should be and need to be more than job-training centers – the idea of free inquiry is crucial to societal progress. Are queer Mickey Mouse studies ever going to contribute anything to society? I doubt it, but I don’t know – but if you leave the decision to the corporate world, nobody will ever find out. Yes, that system creates a lot of frictional loss, but it also has the potential to create something completely new and groundbreaking – something that is far beyond the horizon of short-term profit oriented corporations (keeping in mind the difference between managers and entrepreneurs).

    Imagine, for a moment, the world we would be living in today if the university founders of the 16th century would have structured their institutions to meet the demands of the job-market of the day.

  8. #8 Thinker
    June 30, 2011

    I’m not sure I agree with you on the use of unemployment figures to control the number of slots available in particular university programs. Assuming you mean current figures, they may say very little about the job market during the “lifetime” of the education, and would at the very least have to be complemented with projections about the demographics of the workforce in a field (that could predict the numbers retiring etc.)

    I am a bit uncomfortable with the idea of the government telling people what they can or cannot study, although I do agree that some kind of “signal” to those choosing a course of study is justified. OTOH, I don’t agree with “cheaper for society as a whole” as the overarching goal for planning education, if that is intended to mean the government should use some financial profit measure as the way to decide what educations get funding or not.

    I have never in my working life calculated the weight-bearing ability of a static construction or the required efficiency of a heat exchanger, but that doesn’t mean those elements of my engineering education were meaningless. Conversely, I have had great use of some minor elements in a way I had no way of knowing at the time (and certainly, the government could not have known!).

    Analogously, it is difficult for anyone to say what “productive use” there could be for some humanities education. Many people have put such educations to uses no one would have predicted.

    I’d say the solution has to include the opportunity to study what you wish (provided you qualify), but that it is made very explicit to people that they must take the consequences of that choice. Government should make information on those consequences available.

    Finally, a slight nit pick about this:

    And they suggest a solution: students in these programs should not receive the same amount of study loans as other students”.

    The way I interpreted the proposal was not that loans would be decreased for students in those programs; instead, loan limits would be increased while the part of student aid which does not have to be repaid would be decreased.

  9. #9 Martin R
    June 30, 2011

    I don’t share your idealistic view. The career needs of each individual student should trump the well-being of abstracts such as academic subjects. I care more, for instance, about archaeologists than about archaeology.

  10. #10 prosaica
    June 30, 2011

    I think you have some valid point. Except I’m sure in Italy we wouldn’t be offering mathematics or physics – and lots of design and media. It’s a difficult theme, and I don’t trust the employers more than I trust 19-year olds.
    I must admit feeling fascinated with the idea of queer Micky Mouse :).

  11. #11 Ola
    June 30, 2011

    1. Are they in Sweden?
    No, I’m speaking from the perspective of someone who studied in the United States.

    2. Do you know what the relative frequency of this among fluff majors overall is like? Your friends may not be a representative sample.
    I know a lot of hum majors have trouble finding jobs, especially in this economy; also, I attended an Ivy League school which (argue as you may) does have its perks for finding a job.

    That being said, I think a “fluff” major can very easily be supplemented with actual experience(internships, for example), which give one practical exposure to the field in which you may be interested (that is, majoring in history or not, you can still get an internship in finance, marketing, etc etc). The successful “fluff” majors were successful because they were proactive about finding a job.

    Many of the skills you learn in those kinds of majors are transferable – no, you won’t be a computer scientist or an engineer with one. But the writing skills you learn from writing a 25-page paper about the influence of the Spanish invasion on the Nahuatl language and the analytical skills you get from reading Milton’s Comus vs Paradise Lost are sure as heck going to give you something.

    Any Art History major who sits on his/her butt and does nothing proactive for his/her career will have trouble finding a job – but then again, so will an econ major, or a bio major, or a physics major.

    Again, however, this is speaking from the perspective from someone in the North American system. I’m not sure how prevalent internships are in Sweden and I’m not sure how specialized it is (that is, will someone going into queer Mickey Mouse studies intend to stay in this path as their career or, like the US and Canada, do they go in looking for ways to apply skills gleaned QMM studies to the job market).

    Of course, right now, I’m focusing on the practical part of the argument (being able to find jobs for all new graduates) rather than the more emotional side that Martin R presents (after all, you don’t want all the employed in the nation to be mindless drones who hate what they do and dream about being a queer Mickey Mouse expert all day long, do you?).

  12. #12 Thinker
    June 30, 2011

    I’m not sure I agree with you on the use of unemployment figures to control the number of slots available in particular university programs. Assuming you mean current figures, they may say very little about the job market during the “lifetime” of the education, and would at the very least have to be complemented with projections about the demographics of the workforce in a field (that could predict the numbers retiring etc.)

    I am a bit uncomfortable with the idea of the government telling people what they can or cannot study, although I do agree that some kind of “signal” to those choosing a course of study is justified. OTOH, I don’t agree with “cheaper for society as a whole” as the overarching goal for planning education, if that is intended to mean the government should use some financial profit measure as the way to decide what educations get funding or not.

    I have never in my working life calculated the weight-bearing ability of a static construction or the required efficiency of a heat exchanger, but that doesn’t mean those elements of my engineering education were meaningless. Conversely, I have had great use of some minor elements in a way I had no way of knowing at the time (and certainly, the government could not have known!).

    Analogously, it is difficult for anyone to say what “productive use” there could be for some humanities education. Many people have put such educations to uses no one would have predicted.

    I’d say the solution has to include the opportunity to study what you wish (provided you qualify), but that it is made very explicit to people that they must take the consequences of that choice. Government should make information on those consequences available.

    Finally, a slight nit pick about this:

    And they suggest a solution: students in these programs should not receive the same amount of study loans as other students”.

    The way I interpreted the proposal was not that loans would be decreased for students in those programs; instead, loan limits would be increased while the part of student aid which does not have to be repaid would be decreased.

  13. #13 Martin R
    June 30, 2011

    I don’t trust the employers more than I trust 19-year olds.

    Maybe you’ll agree that the employers do decide who gets employed, and that the 19-y-os do not.

  14. #14 Fred Magyar
    June 30, 2011

    “My solution to the problem is to change whose demand decides what university programs will be offered. Don’t ask the students. Ask the employers,…”

    Oh,Yeah! That’ll work out perfectly! How many employers are interested in unprofitable subjects such as archaeology…

    F**k the stupid capitalistic consumerist corporate system that manages to corrupt, even the thinking of a scientist and academic. We need more Lawyers, MBAs and advertising execs not free thinking intellectuals who are just a burden on society… oh, those worthless people in the arts, just get rid of them. /rant!

  15. #15 Martin R
    June 30, 2011

    I think a “fluff” major can very easily be supplemented with actual experience(internships, for example)

    I have heard that this is the case in the US and UK. In Sweden’s societal machinery, however, each worn out part is replaced with a similar brand-name specialised part. We do not see jobs advertised where “a college degree” is qualification enough. I mean, we don’t even have college. It’s straight from high school to a specialised university degree, usually an MA these days.

    The transferable skills argument doesn’t work here. Swedish employers always choose between a) five people with the correct specialised skills AND transferable skills, and b) a person with a fluff major and those transferable skills.

    As for how happy people are with their jobs, he actually have plenty of fulfilling MA level jobs where there’s an imminent or present labour shortage.

  16. #16 Martin R
    June 30, 2011

    Oh,Yeah! That’ll work out perfectly! How many employers are interested in unprofitable subjects such as archaeology…

    Um… That’s what I’m saying. Employers don’t want archaeology. That’s why archaeology majors are unemployable. And that’s why archaeology programs should not be freely available to kids. Do you think it would be fun to be an unemployable archaeologist?

  17. #17 Martin R
    June 30, 2011

    I’d say the solution has to include the opportunity to study what you wish (provided you qualify), but that it is made very explicit to people that they must take the consequences of that choice.

    Haha, you’re suggesting that what should be cut for humanities students isn’t their study loans, but their unemployment benefits after graduation?!

  18. #18 Ola
    June 30, 2011

    “The transferable skills argument doesn’t work here. Swedish employers always choose between a) five people with the correct specialised skills AND transferable skills, and b) a person with a fluff major and those transferable skills.”

    *nod* that makes sense. Coming from a completely different background, I really can’t debate the validity of this point with you.

    The only problem that I can see with the list you provide is that almost all are science-based (which many people aren’t good at and/or don’t enjoy) or teaching-based (and I’m of the firm belief that people shouldn’t teach cause it’s a job they can do, but because they genuinely enjoy it, because otherwise they will do more harm than good). I’m willing to guess that many of the people who pursue humanities subjects choose them because the aforementioned subjects just aren’t for them. You don’t want to just fill jobs, you want people who will be successful at their jobs.

    It wouldn’t be fun to be an unemployable archaeologist – but it wouldn’t be fun to be stuck in the bottom rung of the ladder for years and years while everyone around you gets promoted because you picked a career to have a job, not because it matched the skills you have.

  19. #19 Aaron
    June 30, 2011

    I guess what disturbs me most here is the base assumption that universities are nothing more than vocational training. That’s sad.

  20. #20 Steven Blowney
    June 30, 2011

    When I was 19, I was in college for engineering. What did I learn? That since I had no talent for higher math, I was not qualified for the work. This realization was intensely humbling. The math professors were kind, gave me a C, and I’ve never had to do any serious math ever again.

    What, I ask, do you do with otherwise intelligent people who not qualified for the employable work discussed here? Should they become plumbers? Welders? Politicians? What?

  21. #21 Martin R
    June 30, 2011

    guess that many of the people who pursue humanities subjects choose them because the aforementioned subjects just aren’t for them. … everyone around you gets promoted because you picked a career to have a job, not because it matched the skills you have.

    Just because I may have a certain skill set, nothing says that there will a market for those skills. Tough luck if I’m a born origami virtuoso, right?

  22. #22 Martin R
    June 30, 2011

    what disturbs me most here is the base assumption that universities are nothing more than vocational training.

    People who go deeply into study debt and spend years doing a degree tend to believe that their training is vocational. Why is that disturbing? How would they pay off their loans otherwise?

  23. #23 Martin R
    June 30, 2011

    What, I ask, do you do with otherwise intelligent people who not qualified for the employable work discussed here? Should they become plumbers? Welders? Politicians? What?

    I have no idea. What I do know is that they should not get a degree in a jobless subject. It’s bad enough to end up in a low-pay boring job. It’s even worse to have a low-pay boring job and be in serious debt from studies that went nowhere.

    I don’t get this idea that society will always provide a fun job that fits a person’s talents. How would that work? Born origami expert, remember?

  24. #24 jpj
    June 30, 2011

    Here we have two people. First, the person who majors in finance and gets a job that s/he doesn’t particularly enjoy but pulls down a healthy income. This person’s appreciation of music doesn’t extend past American Idol; who’s appreciation of art is black velvet Elvis; and who’s sense of history is that of Michelle Bachman.

    The second person majors in history, has a job s/he enjoys but pulls down a modest income. This person seeks out art and music and has a sense of history that is energizing and spends a lot of time in political activism and community work. This person has the critical skills necessary to know that Michelle Bachman is full of shit.

    What some here seem to be saying is that it is the job of the university to concentrate on turning out people of the first sort rather than people of second sort. THAT is just sad.

  25. #25 Martin R
    June 30, 2011

    But that’s not how people work. Most people in finance (or without any higher education at all) aren’t tasteless morons. Most people with good taste (YMMV) do not pick it up at university.

  26. #26 jpj
    June 30, 2011

    And “good taste” does not translate into understanding art, music, literature or any of the other things that “fluff” humanities teaches. The idea that humanities education does not directly translate into a larger paycheck and therefore should not be supported is just sad. The idea that broadening one’s mind is not worth spending money on is just sad.

  27. #27 Henry
    June 30, 2011

    Am I the only one amused by a right-leaning, ostensibly pro-fee market organization calling for a planned economy?

  28. #28 Martin R
    June 30, 2011

    JPJ, I live in a country with many free public libraries. There’s no reason to take study loans to broaden one’s mind here.

    Henry, they’re calling for cuts in state subsidies, sounds pretty in character to me.

  29. #29 jpj
    June 30, 2011

    Martin R: Are you really saying that spending some time in the library is the same experience as taking a degree in a subject? Why then, do we have universities at all? I refuse to believe that you really think that reading philosophy books is the same experience, that you get as much out of it with a course of study with philosophy professors many of whom WROTE those books you have in a library.

    And, if a student LOVES philosophy then the student should be able to spend money learning it. Same with art history or ethnomusicology or any of the subject derided here as “fluff.” But people here are basically telling students: “Major in finance (or some other “marketable” skill). Don’t pay attention to your intellectual interests. Don’t pay attention to a love of learning. Keep your eye on the paychecks you will earn once you graduate. If, upon graduation, you are stuck in a job you hate, well, at least you will pay off your student loans quicker than the fool who studied what she loved.”

    The point of a university education is to turn out well-rounded, critical thinking students who make good citizens in society. NOT to turn out employees with narrow technical skills suited only to the narrow confines of the job market at a particular point in time.

  30. #30 Martin R
    June 30, 2011

    Well, I guess you’re more of an idealist than me. What did you study, JPJ? How is your career turning out?

  31. #31 dogteam
    June 30, 2011

    I do understand your point of view, though I can’t agree. Do you propose that entire fields of knowledge not be passed on because they won’t guarantee someone a 9-5 job? I believe that kids need to be told, in no uncertain terms, what to expect after graduation in their prospective chosen field…that’s what was sadly missing in my day (go to University you win, learn a trade you’re a loser!).
    I regret now not choosing more wisely, but I would regret even more not to have had the choice. Education as an end in itself perhaps should not be subsidized by the taxpayer, but it needs to be available.

    “Most people in finance (or without any higher education at all) aren’t tasteless morons. Most people with good taste (YMMV) do not pick it up at university.”
    Hear, hear! I’m tired of hearing that nonsense, the snobbish notion that because you did’t go to university you’re somehow lower class.

    I find that a lot of people (not all, of course) that are “unemployable” would be so regardless of their training. There is competition for any job, and “The successful “fluff” majors (are) successful because they (are) proactive about finding a job”. I don’t hire welders because they took the appropriate training…I hire them because they’re good at what they do. This creates a fair amount of resentment….after all, they were “guaranteed” that they’d get a job! How dare I not hire them! And those that are good? Well, they may as well have studied something they loved….because they would probably have been good at that too. “And gotten a good job.

    Just my 2 cents ;)

  32. #32 Martin R
    June 30, 2011

    Do you propose that entire fields of knowledge not be passed on because they won’t guarantee someone a 9-5 job?

    No, I’m proposing that these fields should quit teaching in bulk as a business model.

    If you tell kids that the university program they want, though available, is a bad career choice, then they will imagine that they’re the exception. I know I did. And though more successful than most colleagues of my age, I’m certainly not as successful as I expected to be. My contemporaries in more lucrative fields are making chaired professor now. I still haven’t seen my first temporary lectureship.

    And I am completely incapable of welding!

  33. #33 dogteam
    June 30, 2011

    If you tell kids that the university program they want, though available, is a bad career choice, then they will imagine that they’re the exception. I know I did.

    Yep. Me too. A couple of teachers tried to warn me, but I wanted to “learn”, not get a trade. ;)

    But you know what? Some of my classmates did very well. They hustled, they pushed, and they got what they wanted. I didn’t. C’est la vie.

    You’ve mentioned this many times in the past, Martin. Do you really regret your education? Or do you really believe that your life would have been better as a bus driver? (Not a rhetorical question, or an aspersion on bus drivers, I really am curious…). Or would you just have preferred to choose a related, but slightly more “lucrative field”? whatever that might be….?

  34. #34 jpj
    June 30, 2011

    I think there is very good data that a college degree, ANY college degree pays off in greatly increased lifetime earnings. That would include the humanities. Now, surely a degree in finance or business pays better than a degree in the liberal arts. But a degree in liberal arts pays better than a no degree at all. My nephew with his degree in religious studies, who works in a bank btw, is making much better money than his brother without a degree who works in a body shop.

    So, I am at a loss to understand why studying a subject you love is a “bad career move.” And certainly at a loss to understand why starting income out right out of college should be the sole criterion by which we judge the value of learning.

    And, since asked, my degrees are in history, and that favorite whipping boy of all disciplines, communication which EVERYONE knows is the fluffiest of the fluff disciplines. Despite survey after survey saying that what employers look for the most in their employees is ability to communicate well.

  35. #35 Martin R
    June 30, 2011

    Dogteam, for my entire adult life, there has been only one or two people except myself who have cared or even noticed whether I get up in the morning or not. If I hadn’t had such a strong innate drive, it would have been demoralising to be in such low demand. If I had been kept from studying archaeology, I would most likely have been in the hard sciences or medicine today and earned the appreciation of my fellow men. And I believe I would have been quite happy with that, despite not getting to spend my life doing what I liked at age 18.

    JMJ, there is good data to suggest that a humanities degree does not pay off in Sweden. How has your history & comms degree served you?

  36. #36 dogteam
    June 30, 2011

    “Dogteam, for my entire adult life, there has been only one or two people except myself who have cared or even noticed whether I get up in the morning or not. If I hadn’t had such a strong innate drive, it would have been demoralising to be in such low demand.
    OK. I hear that, and the associated frustration, and I can certainly relate.

    However, that describes a good chunk of the worlds population, most of whom never get to spend their life doing what they like at age 18. That puts you way ahead of the curve, and I sincerely hope that you still enjoy your chosen field just a little bit…you certainly seem to.

    If it helps, you have my appreciation! ;)

  37. #37 Domestigoth
    June 30, 2011

    As one of those people who has a degree in a “fluff” subject (theatre — with honours, even), I think that this entire discussion is missing the point. Not all of us go to university in order to make ourselves more “employable”. For me, at least, the degree is just a piece of paper. I’ve never even bothered to take the thing out of the stupid little decorative folder they handed it to me in. I chose theatre over potentially more money-making options because it’s something that I love. It’s something that I’m passionate about. And I don’t regret the decision, even in a world where the economy has collapsed and paid theatre contracts for anyone with less than a decade of experience are about as common as pink, fluffy unicorns.

    The humanities are called that for a reason: arts and culture are what makes us *human*. More than any other subject — yes, more than medicine, science, engineering, absolutely anything — the arts have the power to change the world. Without imagination and communication, change would never occur, and it is the arts which foster and encourage our imaginative capabilities, and allow for discussions across cultural and social and linguistic divides.

    I chose theatre as my career — and life — path because I can’t realistically imagine myself doing anything else. I’m happiest and most fulfilled in my life when doing theatre, even if I’m not making a cent at it. I see real value in the production of theatre, and intend on one day running my own theatre company, with a mandate of producing world-changing theatre.

    To put it simply: money is not the only measure of how a degree “pays off” — either for the individual, or for society as a whole.

    I’m not debating that there are definitely people taking “useless” degrees who shouldn’t be there. People who lack the sort of passion required to make their degree really valuable. 80% of the people I went to university with should not have been in that program — they were there because they didn’t know what else to do, because they liked to act and had no life plan, or because they were in teacher’s college and needed a second “teachable” option. Those sorts of people should be strongly discouraged from taking such a program — or even from going to university at all, as apprenticeships and college programs cost less and are often more effective at placing their graduates into jobs.

    But don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. Don’t get rid of imagination just because it doesn’t pay well. In the long run, it may pay greater dividends than anything else we do.

  38. #38 jpj
    June 30, 2011

    My history and comm degrees are serving me well. I’m a very lucky tenured professor get paid for doing a job I love. OK, maybe not the faculty meetings, but really everything else is great.

  39. #39 Martin R
    June 30, 2011

    Thank you, Dogteam! I still love archaeology.

    D-Goth, we are in agreement. At least 80% of the people who do degrees in jobless subjects shouldn’t be allowed to do so. I assume that you have a day job and are not advocating that people who are passionate about theatre should be allowed to live on the dole.

    JPJ, congrats! You realise of course that your career in history a) is extremely rare, b) gives you a strong set of motivations to keep those courses running.

  40. #40 jpj
    June 30, 2011

    My career is extremely rare for holders of doctorate degrees and does not really relate to much of this discussion which is about undergraduate degrees.

    What I was objecting to was what I found to be set of anti-intellectual claims about university education, specifically the idea that a subject’s worth is accurately measured in pay scales upon graduation. Universities are not vocational schools and should not be treated as such.

    But, even taking the measures at face value, a college degree is a good investment in the US. That it may not be in Sweden is a problem that I hardly think can be solved by asking businesses for advice about designing a curriculum since the reason it pays off in the US can’t be that we are having CEOs design humanities curricula (not yet anyway).

    And, since I’m being verbose today, the disparaging of the agency of students is disturbing, “They are 19, they don’t know anything about their own education.” They are adults, best to treat them as such.

  41. #41 Martin R
    June 30, 2011

    These young adults tend to be unpleasantly surprised when they find out what their degrees are really worth in practice.

  42. #42 jetlaglady
    June 30, 2011

    I have to say, I went into archaeology knowing full well that it was a rough market. I’m considering not getting the PhD because that’s another 7 years of full-time studying on a stipend, but I did a masters in the UK and I don’t regret it at all. Granted, this is for the United States, but those transferable skills are extremely versatile. I can read in four languages, I can sort of get through a rough outline in another two, and I speak Italian fluently. I often see peers flailing for answers because they don’t know how to research properly, and written communications that are at best legible. Would I love to move back to archaeology? Sure. Do I think there should be more archaeology? Yes. (This differs wildly from European standards, because obviously our CRM work is very different and has far fewer things like the Romans to deal with…) But I don’t regret it. A proper archaeology course should produce well-educated students with keen research and language skills, knowledge of appropriate scientific fields, and so on.

    Plus, people keep saying “you should have been an engineer!” but the truth is I switch numbers around when I read, so, really, no. How many business majors do we really need? Accounting and finance, sure, but realistically, many people with “useful” degrees still struggle with the value of their work and employment.

  43. #43 Sandgroper
    July 1, 2011

    It’s interesting. In Australia, there is such a shortage of good students enrolling in the hard sciences that the universities have reduced the fees to encourage more. In an age when all of the universities claim to be cash-strapped, that signals desperation.

    I put this down partly to public disenchantment with science, partly to the relatively poor salaries paid to scientists, partly to the lure of earning ‘big bucks’ in corporate finance, marketing and mining, and partly to sort of youthful romantic idealism about how important it is to learn about what you love, rather than learning something you could be good at that will equip you for the job market.

  44. #44 Scote
    July 1, 2011

    “I don’t share your idealistic view. The career needs of each individual student should trump the well-being of abstracts such as academic subjects. I care more, for instance, about archaeologists than about archaeology.”

    Er, but would there be any archeologists under your proposal? How many employers are in demand of archeologists?

  45. #45 Steven Blowney
    July 1, 2011

    Let me switch this question around. If universities and colleges should only offer courses in profitable/useful/employable subjects, what then will happen to unprofitable/useless/unemployable subjects? These subjects–literature, history, archaeology, philosophy, The Arts, etc. (there are numerous subjects considered useless)–aren’t likely to simply stop existing altogether. History will happen no matter what we do about it. Art will appear, even if it’s drawn on a frieght-car or on any available wall. People will write stories, and some of them will published, read, and discussed. Politicians and voters will (hopefully) argue the ethics of a certain issue, and use philosophical means to do so. You can not stop these subject, so why stop studying them?

  46. #46 Martin R
    July 1, 2011

    Scote, archaeology has quite a large job market compared to other subjects in anthro/arts. Most archaeologists who have a job (and they’re a small minority) do contract archaeology in advance of construction projects. I haven’t suggested anything that would shrink this job market. I’m suggesting measures that would limit the over-production of e.g. archaeologists.

    Steve, having twenty scholars do research into one of the subjects you mention at a university department does not presuppose that the department also accept hundreds of undergrads every year.

  47. #47 dustbubble
    July 2, 2011

    Dearie me Martin! If this is what you’re like in high summer, what sort of a state are you going to be in by February?

    Er, but would there be any archeologists under your proposal? How many employers are in demand of archeologists?

    No bother Scote.
    Archaeology’s easy, a monkey could do it. In fact ..

    (well at least that’s how it goes in Blighty)

  48. #48 Lynn
    July 5, 2011

    It is definitely a problem, but in this time living is very expensive, and for that reason is that every student that is going to college is going to choose a career that gives money.

  49. #49 Christopher Hynes
    July 15, 2011

    The main issue I feel, is that universities are ‘disconnected’ from the general public and business,plus the amateur level of post-high school careers counselling services. Don’t ask business what it requires in a graduate, as it will be some Human Resource waffle, ask those who are at the ‘coal face’ of industries, as they can spot future trends that can make the educational attainment relevant.
    Also, an education should be ‘well rounded’ and include the Arts/Humanities, etc; as it teaches you to think creatively.
    I have worked with clients whose educational standards have been based purely on the ‘business core’ and they are the almost insular in their thinking.

  50. #50 Martin R
    July 15, 2011

    an education should be ‘well rounded’

    Most people’s education is pretty specialised. And if you specialise in the Arts/Humanities, you’re headed for retraining, menial tasks or unemployment.

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