I do a maths degree. Arguably maths is one of the most respected degrees. It’s intense, difficult, confusing and, at times, borderline insane and, because of this, people treat it as a gateway into any job they want, once they have it of course. They don’t actually realise that degrees are only as good as the person holding them, so, in reality, what’s the point of having a degree if they’re only as good as you are?
I saw this article on the BBC yesterday and I wondered about what it could mean. Not only does it talk about Penguin removing the necessity for job applicants to have a degree, but also about a number of other companies including Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst and Young, who have all taken steps to do the same and have moved their recruitment criteria away from taking people based on grades towards taking them on based on how they are as a person. It’s fascinating to think about.
There are so many possible reasons for this, and I really want to talk about them because, ever since I start my degree, I have had to ask myself why anyone needs/wants/thinks that a maths degree is useful. I’ll get back to that later but first I must talk about the article.
I think that these moves show a lack of faith in the education system as a whole. The number of people getting degrees has substantially increased over the last 20 to 30 years to the point where around 40% of the UK populace has a degree. This has basically created a wholly unexpected problem of people being overqualified for jobs during the recession. People with first-class degrees are applying for jobs in Starbucks. Most minimum wage jobs now get over 100 applicants, many of them with degrees fresh out of university. It’s bizarre but, more importantly, it challenges the idea that a degree guarantees you a job.
When people with degrees get rejected for jobs in favour of people without, you have to really ask what they are worth? “They”, in that sentence, refers to both the degrees and the people holding them. Whether they are maths degrees, English degrees or one of the more stupid degrees like Sociology or Philosophy or Musicology, people are starting to see them for what they are: pieces of paper that say you fulfilled some arbitrary criteria. They’re hard criteria to fulfill in a lot of cases but they are a simple set of hoops to jump through nonetheless. Again I bring up my pet peeve as well but if you have a degree in something like creative writing then I think you seriously need to take a look at what you want to do with yourself, because it isn’t anything to do with writing, creatively or otherwise. If you wanted to be a writer or a musician or something like that then you’d be doing it already, like I am.
But I’m getting off topic. I read a quote a few days ago that read “Children cheat because society values grades more than learning.” Finally that seems to be changing. With this move, a few companies, which hopefully grows to many, have said that they want talented people without degrees rather than talentless people with them. It’s like when people state things like “Bill Gates doesn’t have a degree,” and things like that to show that you can be successful without one. I personally don’t like this interpretation. When I think of Bill Gates I think of an incredibly smart, talented man who has a drive and ambition like no one else in the world.
I think that you should look at people for what they have got, rather than what they haven’t. Unfortunately that brings to mind, for many, only materialism, which is how we measure our worth in capitalism, but if we look past that, like these companies now are, then we can start to see what value people have, and what value they can have to us. These companies have stopped going “this person doesn’t have a degree, therefore they can’t work here,” and have moved on. It echoes so many of my thoughts over the past ten years. I’m here at university because society says I need to have a degree to get the kind of jobs I want, despite me knowing that I don’t. My degree is going to pay the bills until I can do what I want for a living, which, in case you hadn’t guessed, is writing. Finally this type of thinking is changing and, while I think it will take another 20 to 30 years to get back to how it should be; where university is an option and not an expectation, I revel in seeing it change.