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How much is your degree worth?

The recent announcement by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) that many graduates end up in jobs that do not require degrees is timely, but hardly surprising.

The target that 50% of schoolchildren should ultimately progress to university was a typically barmy piece of lefty thinking. Worse still it was not based on any kind of evidence. It was based on a misguided idea of fairness.

It needn’t have taken a genius to realise that the job market in any developed economy is essentially a pyramid, with a huge amount of badly paid jobs at the bottom and a fewer and fewer well-paid jobs on offer as the pinnacle is reached. There never were enough good jobs to go round.

In any capitalist society the bad news is that there will be a few winners but a whole lot of losers. Promising the world to our youngsters was a political sleight of hand. It was also morally dubious and very disingenuous. For the fact of the matter remains that working life for the vast majority of people will consist of a series of often mundane, under paid jobs – with or without a degree.

As someone who has sat on both sides of the fence, both as a lecturer in Higher Education and as a mature student returning to study, I speak from personal experience.

Fed up with my lot in education, a few years ago I decided to change my life. I decided to enrol at university once more. I’m embarrassed to admit that I had swallowed all that stuff about bettering myself. Quelling my misgivings, I enrolled on a course in TV Production. Change was in the air. I was full of optimism. I couldn’t wait to enter this mysterious world, couldn’t wait to learn the skills that would change the course of my life.

“An MA in Television Production will not get you a job in TV Production.” Had I just heard that correctly? We were having a break from our camera work session, so our lecturer was, I presumed, speaking off the record. I looked around the room. My fellow students were chatting away as per usual. Had they heard what had just been said?

A lecturer had just told us that we were as good as wasting our time. “People usually start off at the bottom – as runners, dogsbodies – unpaid.” As he spoke I felt myself about to explode. I suddenly felt like I had been swindled. I didn’t remember any such statement in the university’s glossy marketing material. Had I done so, then I certainly would not have shelled out £3.500 course fees.

We students returned to our cameras, but I was distracted. I couldn’t quite get over the fact that the course we were undertaking was, if not unrecognised by the industry, then seemingly undervalued or perhaps even just not even on the radar. I was livid.

I had left my job in education to start a course that I hoped and expected would lead to a career as a professional in television production. After the lesson I quizzed this harbinger of doom and gloom further. He smiled. “It’s all about experience in this game. And contacts. But mostly contacts.” With that he shut his briefcase and was gone, leaving me standing in an empty lecture theatre.

Naively I had assumed that my university – any university - would only offer courses that had professional recognition within their respective industries, only offer courses that would have a fairly well-defined career pathway attached, offer courses from which skilled graduates would be sought after in the job market. Not a bit of it.

The university had simply identified a money-spinner – a course they knew would prove popular with their ‘customers.’ That the course was not a recognised pathway in the television industry concerned them not a jot.

I pursued the matter further. I wanted to know how many graduates with the same MA had found jobs in TV. “We don’t track graduates,” came the reply. I was astounded, though perhaps I shouldn’t have been. Every one n a hundred? Now there’s a statistic that wouldn’t go down too well.

Suffice to say I have never had a job in television production nor even the merest sniff of one. My lecturer had been right. Despite applying for jobs with the BBC and ITV, eight years after I finished the course I am yet to secure not my first job in television, but my first interview!

So I’ve given up. Since I gained my little certificate, countless thousands of others have graduated with similar degrees in Television production. There may be a chronic shortage in the UK of doctors, nurses, dentists and plumbers, but there sure as hell ain’t a shortage of television producers.

Come to think of it nor is there a shortage of actors, dancers and scriptwriters despite the limitless amount of undergraduate and post-graduate courses in these areas. Yep, the UK is overflowing with countless thousands of graduates holding pieces of worthless papers called degrees.

Time to stop selling dreams and fantasies because they come with a very high price tag. Not that our universities and colleges give a fig. They’re too busy counting the cash. See you in Starbucks.