The education arms race and degree devaluation

Education arms race

Right now, we are in the middle of what I like to call an ‘education arms race’ because just like a military arms race.

  • Education levels and certifications, just like military technology, become obsolete and devalued quickly.

In my parents’ generation, a bachelor degree was rare and exclusive, so it guaranteed a ticket to a good job. Nowadays, a considerable percentage of every year’s cohort goes to university [local, overseas or private]. Graduates have become common, so naturally the worth of a bachelor degree has dropped.

  • Everyone needs to keep spending resources on ‘upgrading’ just to stay average. Do nothing, and you fall behind.

This occurs on both ends: pre-school and tertiary. Now, any child without a good pre-school education enters primary school at a huge disadvantage [at least 2-3 years behind their peers]. In the past, pre-schools did not exist so children were only exposed to formal education in primary school and everyone started off on the same level.

Tertiary education has now become mandatory for the reason stated above. Degrees are so common now that they have become ‘average’ requirements instead of ‘top student’ indicators. Similarly, where a secondary school education gained a reasonably good job in the past, now it only qualifies for the most menial jobs.

  • The resources spent on education become more than the returns gained, creating an inefficient and wasteful system.

This is especially true for tertiary degrees, where 3 to 4 years and tens of thousands of $ are expended on a degree, which may not be relevant to the job that the graduate eventually works in. There have also been situations where graduates end up in jobs that do not require degree qualifications. All this is a waste of money [student debt] and the most vigorous and energetic years of a person’s life which could be applied in their jobs.

Degree devaluation

I am now seeing this in local universities.

Previously there was the through-train programme, which was catered to ‘independent learners’ to allow them opportunities to ‘explore outside the curriculum’. The through-train programme was then expanded so much, that some students in the programme allegedly NEED tuition in order to keep up in class.

So much for ‘independent learners’ in the through-train.

Universities should not be easy. Honours should not be easy. Third class is indeed third-rate.

Because universities are specialised academic institutions, not free-for-all certificate markets. They were originally started to cater to scholars and academics who were interested in specialist subjects, where experts could gather to discuss, research and learn.

Thanks to modernity and market pressures, this is no longer the aim of universities. They now resemble more of graduate-producing factories.

The result is that some of the student body is not particularly interested in, nor has much aptitude for academic study of the subject they are enrolled in. They just want to graduate with the best degree for the least effort.

So we have first-years ‘forgiven’ for failing the easiest courses in their majors and lowering the bar for honours. I personally suspect an ulterior motive for the honours course – more 4th year students, more 4th year fees.

And of course degree mills, which require less money and zero effort.

Social cost

The results of such a trend has already occurred in the US and some European countries. A glut of graduates, graduate underemployment [going for jobs outside their degree or not requiring degreees], high student debt incurred by paying for the degree.

Is it really better to send everyone to university rather than on-the-job training or apprenticeships?

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