Which course is right for you?

Economies collapsing, job markets contracting, education fees rising… The days of attending University without a clear graduation (employment) goal are becoming less and less viable. Well for us mere mortals anyway.

Employers are faced with an enormous stable of University graduates and have the luxury of selecting the best person for the particular job available. Therefore, regardless of how you want to interpret the saying “horses for courses”, there are two main questions:

1)  Are you going to be the best candidate for the role?

2)  More importantly, is there even a relevant job available when you graduate?

Today I want to focus on course choice to answer these questions, as your course will usually dictate your appropriateness for certain roles and launch your trajectory to employment. To simplify things (heavily), the way I see it, there are two alternatives you can pursue:

Option 1: Degrees that lead to specific employment e.g. BSc Accounting Degrees = Accountant

Option 2: Degrees that lead to non-specific employment e.g. BA Philosophy

In my experience international students have heavily favoured option one as they generally intend to return home with a specific skill in hand, even Ghandi studied Law at UCL in 1889. In comparison, domestic students have historically been more likely to select option 2. However, that said, times are changing and return on education investment is now a consideration for all as people need a skill they can sell.

As a result of this shift, Universities are releasing an increasing number of skill-oriented courses. One of my favourites is the Ethical Hacking for computer Security BSc (Hons) from Northumbria University. This modern day programme couldn’t be more ‘option one’ if it tried, specific skills for specific roles in an industry that is developing faster than the course material can be taught!

So with the push towards practical degrees for specific jobs, what are the benefits of a degree like philosophy? Philosophy Graduates from the University of Kent report a 60% employment rate, and it is interesting to read the list of diverse occupations they go into. What does this mean? Here is where we shift ‘courses’ to one where the finish line is not entry into a particular industry. There’s a lot of merit in the goal of personal growth and learning about a part of life that interests you, and in many cases this approach will inform your views and make you a better fit for jobs that require, say, problem solving or personal interaction.

So this approach is admirable and can lead to rewarding careers, but it’s a tough road at the moment. If your study goals include landing a particular job it may be wise to consider a practical degree, or if you are already studying, add a postgraduate qualification that can provide you with specific skills.

There are horses for courses; it all depends on your goal. What do you think? I’d be interested to hear some experiences.






2 responses to Horses for Courses

  1. Jeffery,

    Would you then agree that a university shift to focus more on ‘Option 1′ type of degrees is denegrating the value of a university education. It appears from an outside perspective that universities are endevaouring to become ‘work place trainers’ rather than higher educators, focused more on the employment rates of graduates than breeding critical thinkers.

    Futhermore what part does commodotification of university degrees and therefore increase in catering for international students underpin this shift, especially in a time when university courses become less affordable for British students?

    Are universities the new TAFE (Australian technical college) and if this is the case where will our forward thinkers of tomorrow be groomed?


  2. Jeffrey

    Hi Michael,

    You have made some great points and touched on a few issues that really do keep me awake at night.

    In order to help you with this, I would like you to think of Universities as a business and education as a product. In most industries and/or businesses; products move through a life-cycle that generally starts with product Innovation, leading to market introduction followed by stages of growth & maturity, from here most organisations will experience some form of decline and finally rationalisation.

    Obviously brands such as Apple, Oxford University etc. manage to buck this life-cycle (for now). However for the majority, this cycle is a fact of life and only the strong will survive the inevitable decline and rationalisation period – where ultimately the whole process starts again… What I think we are seeing now in (UK) HE is an industry somewhere between decline & rationalisation, therefore innovation is needed to survive. For many HE providers (in a stagnating economy), this has been interpreted very simply as a need to increase employability i.e. study with us and get a good job! So in that respect there are correlations with Tafe…

    The other fundamental issue HE is faced with can be explained with simple economics – Supply & Demand. The Gen Y’s (1970’s to 1990’s babies) were told they had to go to University (by their parents) as it would essentially guarantee future wealth, health and happiness. Students who therefore may not have been suited to University created an oversupply of graduates and as a result their value declined.

    I believe (in answer to your questions) the University brand may have devalued to some extent, however as we move through this period of rationalisation I also believe it will be fully restored.
    All in all this is a great topic and many apologies for the delay in my response, I think I will need to expand on this with an actual blog, I will keep you posted.

    All the best,


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