John Denham, the universities secretary, revealed last week at a higher education conference in London his fears that, “Masters degrees are (becoming) a preserve of the rich.” He said, “As taught masters increasingly become an additional pre-employment qualification, there is concern that the gap we are closing as we widen participation for first degrees may open again if the best employment is only open to those who can fund their MSc or MA.” He added that because of the expense of Masters degrees, they are increasingly becoming exclusive to the elite and a further forging a gap between the classes.

Charlie Ball, deputy research director of the Higher Education Careers Service Unit believes that, “it’s what you do during that year to develop skills, not the masters itself, that’s important.” He does however acknowledge that, “there’s a perception among people taking degrees in the last few years, that perhaps a masters degree is needed to set themselves apart.” This would mean that opportunities for better paid jobs and promotions would be more accessible to those with Masters degrees because of the boom in under-graduates, which is set to rocket within the next few years, indicated by the rise in applicants to 450,000 this year. Nonetheless, on the continent, Masters degrees are accepted as a standard part of the average student’s academic career and are not seen as creating class divides. This is partly due to greater government subsidies for students than those available here in the UK.

“Colleges and universities need to be smarter… the Govern-ment needs to make sure people can become economically active rather than just collecting qualifications.”

These concerns have come at a time of increase amongst the number of graduates who are struggling to find employment in the current job market. The Commons Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, have recently released a report named ‘Re-Skilling for recovery’, which plans to rethink the governments retraining system. Phil Willis, a member of the committee remarked, “we’re awash with graduates at the moment who do not have the relevant skills to access employment. Colleges and universities need to be smarter, and the Government needs to make sure people can become economically active rather than just collecting qualifications.”

Mr Denham proposed that universities should begin to offer more vocational courses “to ensure that the labour market has the right people with the right skills and the right time…by expanding work-related or work-based study.” This coincides with his plans to offer more financial support to part-time students who do not qualify for loans to pay for their fees “much has been done to give businesses and individuals the real help they need in these tougher times. This is precisely the right time to be reforming the skills system.” In the meantime, lets not get too disheartened by this devaluation of our degrees; they must, after all, be worth something.

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