Masters degrees – choose correctly

For Bachelor students on their final years, the Masters stage becomes an important stepping stone to a good career. Of course, as with everything in life, the Masters degree stage has its own challenges, opportunities, costs and benefits. As such it should be analysed and planned carefully.

The main decision components are:
1. Definition of quality.
Quality is not the holy grail of education, as no one knows what it really MEANS. Definitions are offered that suit those that provide those very definitions. So each person must define for themselves what they understand to be a “quality education”:
– Overall prestige of the institution. Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford, MIT. Names that assure immediate amazing careers. Or an institution in each country that everyone knows, fears, respects. A good guide is the Times Higher Education Ranking.
– Narrow prestige (reputation) for something very specific, showing leadership in that narrow area. Finance? Wharton. Luxury goods? Monacco.
– Knowledge passed in class. Top specialists in their fields, advertised on the university websites (good universities have nothing to hide!) with extensive CVs, top publications, senior positions in business or government. Professors with international reputations, authors of books used in universities around the world, scientists with publications in top international journals, people employed by top “think tanks”, etc.
– Contact with the business world (or diplomatic or administrative or technological) – are the teachers in corporate employment, or were they senior directors of departments? Ex-Minister teaching a course, Diplomats, CEOs, etc. Can they teach by giving their real-life examples? Can the teachers be useful later, as business or job contacts?
– Market-perceived quality, measured by speed and level of graduate employment after programme, the competition for graduates among companies, speed of advancement.
– Strong networking, both in terms of the contacts that you will make during your studies (your classmates will go far and high, so they will useful) as well as the strength of the Alumni Office, managing the alumni mafia, which loves to employ later graduates of its OWN university.

2. The trade-off between price and “quality”.
Whatever you define as quality, it will cost you. Top universities are expensive because… they can charge those prices. Ferrari will not lower its price. Nor will Harvard. In USA and Europe many universities advertise their programmes by showing how much money their alumni earn. MBA schools show how much MORE you will make after their MBA. Understood?
As soon as you define, which outcomes are important for you, compare them to the fees that you will be required to pay. Consider the fees, especially when you are a non-EU or non-US student planning to go there – they will charge you more (that is their business model).
If you have no money and want to do a Masters degree cheaply, do not expect any good outcomes. You will get your piece of paper. If you need a Masters only to tick a box on your application, then the cheap programme is for you. But at some point, someone might need some knowledge from you, and … you will not have it. Nor any useful skills.
Consider loans or scholarships – have someone else take the financial burden of your studies, so that you can repay it over time, while already having a well-paying job.

3. Time/speed.
In the world there exist two main modes of education: full-time (Monday-Friday), and part-time (weekends), with part-time usually taking longer to complete, as the hours are spread over less contact days. Europe is all about Bologna, and 90% of Masters programmes last 2 years. UK is sabotaging Bologna and still offering a one year Masters. Full-time means little opportunity to work, while if you need to work to pay for you programme then part-time is the solution, but you may have visa issues.
Masters programmes will be either:
– Low on content, to fit it into a one year stretch;
– Very intensive to fit everything into a short time (then you cannot work);
– Longer-lasting, to provide all the courses you need;
Every option has trade-offs. Fast = shorter time to start work. Longer = more knowledge. Intensive = no time for anything else. Easy/shallow = only get diploma (no real knowledge).

4. Selection of correct specialisation.
We assume that you have, at least, decided on the rough area of knowledge that you need, for example Finance.
The next step is to identify what you want, need, or think will be useful. You can pursue:
– Very broad education, in the general field of “Finance”, with some core courses (set by the university, required) and choose what you like or find interesting through elective subjects;
– A very narrow specialisation, with very deep courses providing you with cutting-edge knowledge, skills and understanding;
Those pursuing the first type, will want a career in “general” finance, from staffing cash registers, through assisting stock traders, to doing analysis in a bank. A job awaits anywhere. An average job. Those pursuing the second, narrow type, will gain employment in appropriate institutions, and probably get it faster, earn more and get promoted faster. In narrow specialisations, the level of competition is higher as people are more focused and they contribute stronger KPIs.
As in all these analyses, the message is clear – decide where you want to work and pursue that with determination!

5. Home or abroad.
Highest quality is located in only a few countries – most of you do not live in them. Remember, quality comes at a price, so make sure you can afford it.
Going abroad has its costs – financial expenditures (tuition, flights, living expenses), stress for yourself, family and friends, lost relationships, traumas, visa problems, travel problems, risk of sicknesses, etc.
But studying abroad offers amazing opportunities (alongside the advanced knowledge) – about this I will write in the future. For now, we can state that foreign degrees from good countries are more valuable in the heated battle for top jobs.
If you cannot find funds for study abroad, spend money on a top local university. And consider the opportunities outlined below (a second, better, foreign degree later, a few years into your career).

6. Immediately or not?
Rushing into a Masters degree immediately after your Bachelor is only one option available to all. In reality, you can:
– Finish the Bachelor and go to work, get the job, get yourself sorted out, gain the first real-life experiences. Then, after a year or two, take the Masters and do it alongside your work, adding the second degree title to your now-interesting CV;
– Finish the Bachelor and never do a Masters degree, as your career might not require further formal qualifications;
– Take the Masters immediately after Bachelor, “get education over with”;
The last option has some subcomponent issues. Rushing into a Masters might seem simple, you get a “MA” tick on your CV, but it could be a mistake – you should think about what you really need and want. Maybe a delayed Masters, once you get some money, will be better (it will help your career)? Or, maybe, after 2-3 years of work, you will see an opportunity in something that needs a Masters degree, and THEN, you do one, a correct one? For example, you did finance, but then you see the market need for forensic accountants?
Overall, the biggest danger to delayed Masters is that you will not want to go back to university, so many people “rush through” that second stage of education. In essence they waste time and money.

So, to finish off – a Masters degree should make sense, as part of your overall life/work strategy. If that is the case, then you already know: where, when, how, why you will do the Masters. Otherwise, do any masters immediately, to have the “MA/MSc” title by your name, or WAIT. Wait until you know what you need to do.
Follow your plan! Do not leave anything to chance!

Education level commonality

Continuing the pessimistic thoughts about an absolute lack of education level commonality between nations of diverse social, economic, educational and ethical standards, it makes sense to ponder whether there exist any solution to this problem.

Once again, it is important to mention the fact that Bologna degree equivalency, equalises all qualification at a given level, regardless of their underlying education. So, a UK public university Bachelor degree is equal to a Baccalaureate from a post-soviet-state privatised higher school, where teacher still “read” their classes from faded notebooks. The difference, other than fees, is in the quality of not just teaching but also demands placed upon students (real not theoretical workloads, effort, rewarding).

A popular expectation of commonality comes in the form of oh-so-favoured learning outcomes for the given discipline. In theory, everyone who follows the same standards in developing their degrees (there are a few benchmarks available forcing widespread copying&pasting which should = commonality), should deliver the same results, not only in subject content but also in the stuff left behind in student brains (knowledge, skills, etc). Having written many such documents (and having witnessed even more being created) I can safely say that this is a fallacy – the outcomes written down in many cases have little to do with the student (graduate) profile. Yes, it is the fault of an institution (or rather hundreds of them), yet here we come to the crux of the problem – there must be a force “out there” that is able to gauge the real results of an educational programme, without relying on over-exaggerated paperwork written to satisfy some oversight agency more interested in accounting piles of printed paper than checking the reality of what is being submitted.

Internationally, this is close to impossible. We will most likely have to rely on rankings of universities, yet these are skewed in the direction of science and grants and not knowledge forced into student heads.

At the national level, where we should begin this reform process, we already have working examples (even if at different levels). I am talking about state exams, conducted on a given day to everyone involved in the particular educational programme (most popular as high school exist exams). It would be interesting to see the grades achieved by all students of a given discipline in a nationwide exam with questions defined by a committee of discipline specialists, even if following the “learning outcomes” approach (but for a national degree type). Such an exam would provide an objective benchmark and allow for proper analysis of learning processes, while cutting down to size most idealists favouring academic independence.

Of course, this would only make sense if this “state” exam was defined by the state, administered by its representatives and had a system that kept all local “gurus” far away from it. And, oh please, no releasing of questions beforehand so that mnemonic cyborgs (sorry, students) can then memorise what is required 2 days before the exam, falsifying the results.

We would be looking at a new system. But first, there would be blood in the streets and classrooms as everyone in HE discovered how much (or little) their students (and other institution’s students) really know.

Degree equivalency is a lie

As I spend more and more time in various countries, working with institutions and people of different academic levels, and as I experience the immense universe of students (from the few best, brilliant minds to the dark-grey sea of mediocrity and hopelessness), I am coming to one depressing conclusion.

While Bologna is being hailed as the key building block of academic internationalisation, it brings with it an immense danger of confused degree equivalency – degrees of the same “level” are seen as “equal” allowing students entry onto higher qualifications regardless of their original education. So, a BA from Romania is the same as a UK degree. And so on…

The problem of mistaken degree equivalency is one of actual educational quality – the end result of the educational process that is not a set of generic learning outcomes but real knwoledge-in-the-head. Here lies the crux – just because someone receives a degree in a third-world state does not mean they have the same level of knowledge, experience, hell, even academic skills, as those coming from more academic nations. My favourite group are the Asian students who, in their thousands, pursue “MBA” degrees that have nothing in common with…real MBAs – those difficult degrees for senior managers taught by the best academics and not just addiitonal “Masters-type” qualifications of little impact on actual management knowledge. When combined with hundreds of weak institutions offering such “education” we can now define the MBA market as effectively “poisoned”. A second group are the third-world academics seeking glorious employment in Western universities based on degree-level-equivalency (level 8 NQF for PhDs) and using NARICs certificate as proof of competence (when, in reality, the NARIC certificate only talks about “being similar to a UK qualification” in terms of levels but not content and quality).

So why is there no real standard? Probably because expecting quality would reduce the recruitment of international students. Yet, it is illogical, as recruitment of substandard individuals holding laughably-low academic qualifications from countries that have low or none standards actually poisons the academic environment of the accepting institution… Yes, yes, everyone should have the same chances, bla bla bla, but some have spent more time, effort, intellect and money on gaining their education, only to find themselves surrounded by those… others. When does the destruction-through-mediocrity of all things sacred end?

True, there are systems for rejecting the worst offenders – for example UK unviersities have classifications of degrees by country, university, degree, from which they accept candidates (and from many candidates are rejected outright as detailed analysis exposes the sheer illusion of “education”), while NARIC does its job of analysing equivalencies, however I strongly believe that the sheer scale of possible graduate profiles is so huge that more controls are needed. I will remember for ever Nepalese graduates of a local “BA in Politics” (I was interviewing candidates in Kathmandu for entry onto my masters degree), who did not know the difference between democracy and totalitarianism, despite “you know sir, studying, hard, for three years on that, politics, you know, course”.

More differentiation, more control, more analysis, precise and extensive rejection tables, acceptance conditions and accept/reject decision logic trees are needed. Otherwise, those of us with a decent education will soon be surrounded with substandard competitors holding paper qualifications at same level. And thus, identification of proper and improper degrees will be left to the marketplace, but that is much too late in the production cycle. There is no real degree equivalency. UK and USA education beats all.

Poisoned postgraduate market

The postgraduate market in Poland is broken, badly.

The HE Law allows institutions that possess BA rights to develop and sell programmes below Masters level: the post-graduate 180-hour long programme, after which graduates receive a diploma of completion (PgDip). Interestingly for UK readers, there is no division into certificates and diplomas. Schools are expected (and allowed and checked) to develop programmes within their areas of specialisation: those possessing BA in Economics rights cannot run programmes in accounting or management and vice versa. Of course, most go around this rule by creatively naming their programmes, so that abovementioned economics-rights holder would offer a post-grad programme not in “management” but in “economics of company management”. Maybe, one day, the Ministry will get wiser (or less lazy) and check these programmes and ban a few institution – the course structure clearly indicates the modules and desired learning outcomes, even if the name is….different.

Everyone and anyone offers these programmes, keen to access the one remaining cash-rich market segment: mature students who need to gain these diplomas to assure professional advancement, but do not need/want MAs (or, in case of most Poles, already have them), or are trying to shift their career/specialisation away from their original degree(s). These programmes are offered in weekend mode, and thus an institution can expect students to come from further away – however this is true only for the truly well-respected and highly-ranked. Others, including those from the 70-80-90th places lure only locals, and those (probably) too poor or lazy to go elsewhere. The Ministry needs to be notified, but the programmes are created within the institution and approved by the appropriate oversight body (mostly, a Faculty Board). The Ministry steps in only in cases of outright crisis. A leader or idea-generator puts together a set of subjects, and assembles a team of subject “masters”. Sounds grandiose. And is. In many cases, there is no idea “man”, but a victim ordered to bring in more money to the institution, or someone who is lacking in subjects to complete contracted teaching minimums. Often, the author assembles subjects not through their content, but by giving friends teaching hours – then the programme description reads like a drunken snake trying to sound sober, with sentences lifted and pasted in haphazard places, to make a sensible-sounding justification for the offer. Hours vary, from a 2-hour subject to 20+, depending on the need for the topic, power of its teacher to demand high hourly contact or goodwill of the designer.

In many cases the lecturers have little practical knowledge, sometimes the students happily embarrass the instructor, having come in from the real world and meeting a pimple-faced theoretician educated in a surreal public university with lecturers 90-or-older. Only in the top institutions, do students experience a true awakening and epiphany, exposed to top-class instructors with real-life experience and an extensive academic/research background, backed by an ability to convert theory into practice and vice versa, while incorporating the comments, ideas and experiences of the students (rarely BA-holding “virgins” with no industrial experience).

The students themselves are rarely crème-de-la-crème, highly motivated, talented, able to input the required amount of work. In most cases they are overworked, stressed, annoyed (at doing the programme, wasting their weekends, etc), and have bad attitudes infused by previous institutions or programmes. There are two important market segments (and client profiles): those who are required to continuously update their skills and thus have little real interest in the programme, its contents, lecturer skills; those shifting qualifications, but not willing to undergo the standard brutality of BA+MA re-tooling, and who are interested in a fast return-to-investment. The, there are those “unspoken of” – sneaky individuals who pursue any available PgDip – we will return to those in a minute.

A PgDip is reasonably priced, at around 4000PLN for its one year of weekend efforts in listening. Prices vary from 2500 in crappy locations or for truly-dodgy products to 8000 for programmes offering prestige, true knowledge or a recognised qualification. But, 4000 would be the national average for the 180 contact hours. So, it is about twice the average (net) monthly income in Poland – a decent expenditure, to be considered in advance with careful analysis of all pros and cons. In most cases this expenditure is carried by the student, with few companies willing to pay the fees (exceptions: professional/international qualifications or key/specialised knowledge).

The EU has dropped a dog turd price bomb into the market, by allowing funding to be allocated to institutions developing and offering PgDips – the Union is keen on improving of qualifications, enhancing employment chances of the unemployed and enhancing the skills of grannies, teenagers, 50+s and anyone else who looks like an oppressed minority. Millions have been given out to schools, which prepare any combinations of subjects with an impressive programme name, just to get the money. Academic knowledge passing, learning outcomes, even professional ethics (don’t offer something you just read about yourself a day earlier) all go out the window, in a climate of reduced intakes, a decade-long demographic low and an inability to raise research revenues.

The Union has destroyed the market: it has funded the creation of countless crappy programmes, increasing competition for the prestigious, high-quality providers; it has allowed weak institutions to continue living in a market favouring their speedy demise (as signalled by the drop in full-time and part-time BA/Ma students); it has funded the creation of many useless programmes (created to be “unique” in a way that makes them useless in real-life work) and providing work to useless staff. But, most importantly, the precondition of these programmes is their provision at ZERO or much reduced fees (the Union frowns on schools taking its money for developing a programme and then charging full/real fees). As a result, there are now hundreds of PgDip’s offered at ZERO or minimum tuition (10% is the norm). And as a result #2, the average client is looking only for EU-funded (understood as “free”) programmes and is unwilling to consider a good, up-market, knowledge-heavy offer that is FULLY-priced. With the upcoming cuts in EU budgets, funding for such things may be cut swiftly, however the client has been poisoned for a long time, and it will take a lot of changes to make people consider fully-priced PgDips en masse.

These free, useless and widely-available programmes bring me back to the sub-class of student: consumer of all. Paying nothing or a few hundred PLNs (zlotys), these individuals have started a collectible frenzy, completing 3, 5, 10 programmes of various titles (and, assuming some rationality, content), picking up little, taking places from the much-more-needy (or more deserving) and, definitely, poisoning the employment market – which HR manager can now take seriously a prospective employee with 3 (tough, expensive and hard-to-study) completed programmes and differentiate that candidate from a post-grad industrial parasite that has “completed” 3 or more post-grad programmes sponsored by the EU (I personally know of someone having done 8 programmes, from accounting to law)?
Thanks Brussels…

Graduate careers – a critical perspective

Universities insist that they are providing students with the best education that is perfectly integrated with the needs of the labour market. This, in theory, should lead to 100% employability of graduates, immediately upon receiving their valuable piece of paper.

Looking at the people in different subjects, each one with an ambition to become the top dog in their field, it is clear that students should not rely on the promises of universities claiming to have the secret to immediate career success, nor depend on university career offices to find them the perfect job. A person’s success is a combination of luck and own career management. Depending on others leads you to an unemployment benefit line.

Students – plan and manage your own careers! NO ONE else will do that.

Otherwise, you will be swallowed by the tide of identical graduates, finishing your programme, your university, the same programme in dozens of other universities. Thousands of clones are pushed onto the labour market each year.

How to succeed – what is a good graduate career?

  1. Plan your career for the next 5-10 years.

University is not a period of life, after which comes “something else”. University is a stepping stone for the next 10 years of your career. You will have received the knowledge and skills (and degree certifying to that fact), from which you should step into full-time employment, preferably in an area related to what you’ve just studied.

I ignore useless people who moan that “they don’t know what they want to do”, as those people are wasting everyone’s time, efforts and the financial resources of family or government.

Good people, intelligent people, will have a good idea where they want to go, what they want to do.

Build a secret plan.

University (Bachelor) => Graduation => First full-time job, early experience, getting the first employer onto your CV => experience working + understanding real people (and crazy bosses) => Masters (part-time not to lose work?) => Second job or sizeable promotion within original organisation =>First mortgage … Etc.

Follow the plan.

Figure out what happens in the industry that you want to work in, what are the trends, where is the cool work, where do people earn or make money, who the powerful people are. And then, plan yourself pursuing that.

Develop alternatives in your plan. Be ready for changes – in your first few years OTHER PEOPLE will make decisions about you, so you always have to be ready for good and bad decisions made by THEM about YOU.

  1. Be aware of important trends.
  • Statistics are your enemy – every year thousands of identical students graduate and go looking for the same jobs.
  • Degree inflation – the value of lower degrees or qualifications is diminishing, as (see above) thousands graduate each year in each discipline. Soon, every cleaner or security guard will have a Bachelor (and a Bachelor in “ochrana”, that are offered, for example in Poland ;p).
  • Competency inflation – 2 languages are the norm, as are three. Four or five are desirable. You know Word? LOL – How about Visual Basic for Excel? Driving licence? Maybe a tank driving licence is still unique…
  1. Decide on the final outcomes of your education.

Be aware that there is a trade-off between quality/prestige and price. If you want to get your higher education done easily and cheaply, do not expect good jobs afterwards. There is a reason why top companies/organisations hire form best universities. Quality education = a lot of knowledge. But then, quality education = $$$$$$$$.

The chances of getting an amazing job with a bad education are remote – you would have to find an employer who does not understand the low value of your diploma and then, after appointment you still have to show your unique skills (if you have them). This combination of luck is unlikely.

If you did a low quality Bachelor, then jump in quality/prestige for the Masters. Bad Masters? Do another one in a better university. Hell, go abroad.

  1. Don’t waste time – differentiate yourself.

With thousands of clones graduating each year, you are among them, lost in the crowd. Everyone has the same degree title, similar GPA, even identical subjects on their transcripts. During your studies, pursue additional differentiating factors:

  • Learn more languages (with certificates, proving your skills – just not IELTS);
  • Gain additional qualifications/certificates, both at university and outside;
  • Work experience BEYOND what is required towards the degree (holiday work, part time work around classes, even full-time work integrated with classes) – anything to show to a potential employer that you are a “real employee with experience”;
  • International mobility (exchange) for a semester, to show intercultural and international experience and competencies (or even multiple exchange semesters in different countries, as is increasingly the norm in Europe) – show that you can live and study abroad, that you can deal with foreign cultures, languages, institutions, laws and people;
  • International double-degrees (or triple, if you can get them), where you gain a second degree while studying for a year or two at the foreign partner university – if possible seek programmes that award DIFFERENT degrees, enhancing your value to a potential employer;
  • Research towards your future career – write a dissertation on a topic that will show your future employer your interests, competencies or ambitions;
  • Take courses or gain skills towards your future career (all degrees allow for electives, or take additional courses/credits);
  • Get involved in projects outside of classes that will enhance your experiences, show your organisational skills, people skills;
  • Start projects, that will show your innovativeness and entrepreneurialism;
  • Attend conferences, events, to gain certificates, see what really goes on and, maybe/hopefully, pick up contacts of useful people, whom you can later contact about work/projects/opportunities;


And then, your CV will be INTERESTING to an employer, who will see a young person of above-average competencies, experiences, someone to whom a job offer MUST BE MADE.

You could argue that the lazy ones will get jobs too, but their chances are much smaller, as they are all IDENTICAL. You could argue that some weak graduates will get jobs because of family contacts – although true in some cases, understand that most employers need GOOD people (not children-of-friends), and will in many cases opt for the QUALIFIED CANDIDATE – you.

And after getting the job, you start on the SECOND challenge – developing your career ;p

Twisted reality of education fairs

Having just done a nice round of international educations fairs (and looking forward to two more), I can’t help but voice my amazement at the excitement among local education institutions. I like watching the students, who come for information about opportunities for studying abroad and the salespeople from western universities that tirelessly sell the promise of a top-class education in “place X” or “city Z”. These fairs are now big business, often organised by private companies that collect a sizeable royalty from universities wishing to expose themselves (pun intended) to the money-possessing student-wannabe. Universities see these events as a good way to contact clients and spend many thousands of dollars or pounds on sending the representatives (with massive amounts of publicity materials) to various corners of the world.
All good.
What drives me insane with education fairs, is the lack of logic at the local universities and private institutions – wherever I go for a visit, there are posters and leaflets advertising such events. WHY?? Don’t the local HEI players understand that these events are intended to steal students away from them, away from their country, students who will often never come back? Why advertise your own competition? Why help foreign institutions whisk away much of the best talent, those speaking good English, motivated and who can afford western levels of tuition?
Having posters of these “academic piracy” events in your institution is not a sign of coolness, nor internationalisation. It is purely bad management, lack of proper perception, a careless approach to market, supply and demand. It is as if Apple had an advertisement for Samsung or Microsoft talked about the benefits of Ubuntu (competitive operating system). In real/normal business this would never happen, so why in higher education?
Am I the only one that always binned these education fairs posters/leaflets?
We pride ourselves on teaching students to think, but in our own back yard, that activity is less perfect, sometimes even missing completely. Dear Rectors, start ripping those posters down and yell at your teachers who unwittingly (gullibility is not a good thing) place these “how to steal a student” adverts in your universities.

Regulation to combat collapse of private HE

The collapse of first UK/IRE colleges (first of many) operating validated/franchised degrees and for-profit HE (sub-degree) programmes, has raised the issue of private for-profit education and its ability to “properly educate” its clients (no, not students).

For me, the key issue in collpase of private HE, is the nature of these organisations, created as private, limited, companies, operating under commercial law, without much recourse to (sometimes non-existent) Higher Education Law. The pace of closures, one college shutting its doors over a weekend, another over a week, leaving their students dumbfounded, broke and uneducated, forced to seek alternative providers (and paying twice for the same programme), indicates that an “educational private limited company” is an oxymoron. The life cycle of a PLC and that of an HE institution are mutually exclusive. As are their finances.

If the individual nation states are unable or unwilling to create adequate protection systems for HE students, then maybe it is time for Brussels to step in and regulate this hazy, chaotic and fast-evolving industry?

It is clear that an HEI must be regulated for its specifics. Is education really a commodity or is it a public good? Should there be allowed private owners, able to withdraw profits or shut down upon financial collapse, based on a subjective, personal, emotional, selfish decision? Why cannot all HEIs have charity status (even there, profits can be appropriated and extracted, but through less easy means)? Critical decision-making ought to be moved away from single individuals and put in the hands of collectives, some kind of supervisory boards (despite the fact that they keep on failing in governing corporations) – a few dedicated people will have a different rationality to a lone owner. There should be education-related financial guarantees, focused on the ability of the school to sustain the delivery of programmes until their completion: the Irish system of financial bonding is nice, in Poland the HEI is expected to continue educating while selling-off its assets to pay for delivery, while in Greece there is a minimal fee (.5 mil EUR I think) to operate an HEI.

Part of the responsibility for assuring continuity of education should fall on the regulator, preferably in a way that allows the students to continue receiving their education at the same location and gaining the title/certificate that they chose. Unfortunately, this goes in the direction of large and competent Ministries with actual competencies in HE, able to take on the task of running a collapse HEI or providing some centralised educational location. The Irish had a decent idea – demanding that private HEIs have signed “alternative provision arrangements” (with other private HEIs) in case of collapse, but I don’t think it is enough.

A key issue is the provision of degrees – in the West many private HEIs operate programmes ending with the awarding of degrees from a different institution. In my world, they are not really HEIs, but rather “a business making available learning facilities and providing administrative support for an established academic institution to operate outside its own campus”. Currently, most universities that have externalised their programmes expect other private HEIs to pick up the abandoned students from a collapsed pHEI rather than taking them all in and completing the education process at the Alma Mater.

Private = for profit. For profit = non-academic rationality. Non-academic = not higher education.

Useless degrees – who should pay for your studies?

As years in higher education pass by, I keep coming back to a notion I picked up in a book about Japan’s economic miracle. The smart Japanese, intent on developing their economic might in the shortest possible amount of time, developed their higher education (public, e.g. state-owned and state-funded) to an advanced level. They had, however, one interesting attitude, which might come in handy in the current discussions about Western higher education – the Japanese funded lavishly those degrees that the government considered USEFUL. Engineering, mathematics, chemistry, physics, architecture, etc we all strongly and consistently supported. The same could not be said about degrees like political science, history, etc, which were deemed unable to contribute to economic development.
Of course, we will come across arguments that a technological society in rapid development “must find space/time/money for the arts” or “without knowing history we are doomed to repeat it”, but the counter argument is one of financial analytics. Concepts such as RoI come to mind, which play a major role when we consider the size of state expenditures on higher education and the ratio of expected/real returns. Therefore the question becomes one of: why would a government spend tens of millions of dollars (usually much more) on providing free education in areas that make no or very little contribution to national development? How much GDP growth can we expect from students of politics, sociology, history, art, music, drama, media, of whom each nation has tens of thousands graduating each year?
This is especially important when I recall a second bit of information – many years ago I came across a research paper in the UK, detailing the career paths of university graduates: 30% had jobs that did not require a degree, 30% had jobs that needed a different degree, and only the remainder correlated university education with later employment (I think those ratios are correct, but taken form wihtin the haze of memory). So, 60% of researched graduates could be said to have “useless degrees”.
Let us drop in one more component – the massive global economic depression, which is hitting the European Union especially hard. And even harder-hit are the EUs 20-somethings, fresh out of universities, both prestigious and not. Those frustrated, over-educated, unable to find any work people who will for the rest of their lives remain a generation devoid of optimism (and national insurance).
So, why would a government provide funding for so much “useless degrees”? Why throw away money on institutions, programmes and staff, who “educate” young people straight into unemployment and feel no remorse over this sad fact? It seems that governments have still bigger problems to sort out, before they even begin looking at such issues. Also, such policy changes will be unpopular and, especially in democratic countries, bring with them bad media (no longer just “bad press”). Yet, when we consider the economic efficiencies coupled with reduced citizen frustration, then we begin to see some logic behind the idea.
Critics will, of course, talk about the freedom of a student to choose their educational path. Yes, that freedom must exist, but CANNOT be guaranteed when the government is footing the bill. There is a solution to this “freedom dilemma” and it comes in the form of diversified funding for higher education:
– Strategic degrees, vital to the nation? Of course, the government will fund the institution, which in turn will mean that students study for free and may even receive additional funding (bursaries, social support, scholarships, etc).
– Useful degrees, providing overall improvements (as management graduates should)? Yes, but a funding-sharing arrangement akin to public-private partnerships (PPP), where institutions/companies co-fund the production of their future employees.
– Art and history? Useless degrees. If you want to study that, pay for it yourself. In case of the first funding model, the state assures a return by having a contract with each students requiring them to work within the nation, for local companies, etc.
The second model provides a simple system of guarantees – the company that co-funds a degree will expect to “get” the graduate. In the third case, no one cares – a student paid for his/her education in an unproductive discipline and that same student then faces the consequences of his/her educational folly (plus a bank debt or unrecoverable loss of own many thousands of Euros).
It would be fascinating to see the statistics of higher education shift dramatically and swiftly, as people would abandon no-longer-free “life changing” and “personality growing” and “passion following” degrees and either: go to work straight after high school or seek-out a tertiary-level education that would provide them with a steady job and for which they would not have to pay as much as for the “idealistic” degrees. The students themselves would begin to look at their life, study, career through the eyes of an investment banker (“if I invest, what do I get out?”).
Some institutions would be closed down, some would reformat their organisational units, many departments would be closed and staff laid off. But then, in a pragmatic 21st century, are universities to be the retention warehouses for the unemployable and useless, or are they to be vital institutions in the development of human capital and technological advantage that the Chinese low-cost producers cannot easily copy? If vital research in “useless” disciplines exists, then such researchers can gain funding from other sources. If a government suddenly needs 300 political science graduates or media/PR advisers, it can provide one-time, target-specific funding.
And yes, this is the opinion of a Politics degree graduate (admittedly one, who dramatically refocused his life after exiting the university, moving away from his own “useless degree”). And who did not receive government funding…