Only the truly ignorant would rank universities according to graduate earnings

There ain’t half been some clever bastards, as Ian Dury once said. It is a pity none of them are involved in running our universities. Those who do appear unable to evaluate evidence, understand data or do comparative analysis. They lack in basic skills. What else could explain this “idea” that universities be ranked on the earnings of their graduates? The Guardian reports.

Obviously, graduates’ earnings do not depend just on where they did their degree, but on several factors. D’oh! Do I need to spell this out? Earnings vary according to subject and career choice. Some jobs may never produce high incomes, but they enrich society, whether this be in nursing or the arts. Wages in all sectors vary according to location, with people in the south-east earning more.

The prime factor that determines the lot of graduates remains the wealth of the student’s family. Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies in 2016 showed that the top 10% of highest-earning men from rich backgrounds earned 20% more than the top 10% of highest-earning men from poorer ones. Social mobility had already stalled before the introduction of tuition fees, but the monetisation of this whole sector means it is but a pipe dream.

Once you say the value of education is only ever about earning power, you end up with all sorts of idiocy, and vast gulfs in both pay and understanding. Right now, we have part-time lecturers on strike over their pensions, while vice-chancellors are being paid more than £400,000 a year. We have young people with huge student debts unable to find decent jobs at all, and ministers suggesting that universities be ranked using the methodology of TripAdvisor. Teaching quality is to be judged bronze, silver or gold, but the key indicator of excellence will be graduate earnings. 

The knowledge economy does not operate in these vertical terms, nor would it be desirable if it did. We end up with crazy situations, such as students suing their colleges for being mis-sold “mickey mouse degrees”. The international business strategy graduate Pok Wong is seeking £60,000 in damages from Anglia Ruskin University because “it has been proven … that the degree … does not play a role to securing a rewarding job with prospects”. She had, she said, been misled by the prospectus.

This is what happens if you, like this government, think knowledge or even prospects can somehow be bought and sold. You review a degree as you might a not-very-effective vacuum cleaner. You blame the product for not doing what it said on the tin. Thus, you reveal yourself as spectacularly stupid, inflexible, unwilling to learn or able to think critically at all. You devalue the concept of education itself because you can’t see that it has an intrinsic value beyond price. Of course, a government that wears its ministerial ignorance as common sense will do this. It will attack what it hopes we never understand.

Read the full article Only the truly ignorant would rank universities according to graduate earnings

What do you think of the proposed university ranking system? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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