'Easy' degree is no credit to nations, says academic

September 3, 2009

Degrees on topics akin to "advanced Frisbee and line dancing" are damaging economies by giving graduates of the "American Idol generation" a false sense of achievement without leading to meaningful employment, a New Zealand academic has claimed.

Jacqueline Rowarth, director of agriculture at Massey University, said a proliferation of graduates with "easy" degree subjects is causing problems in developed nations, as a worldwide shortage of scientists begins to bite.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Professor Rowarth also suggested that a rise in the number of "quarter-life crises" and suicides among young people could be linked to the unrealistic expectations created by the Western education system.

"When you look at where our graduates are, there is a remarkable number in areas that are called the 'easy' subjects - the performing and creative arts, media studies, sociology, drama," she said.

"It is an international problem. It's great that they feel positive about what they have achieved, but it can't help them to get employment."

According to Professor Rowarth, Western governments have created a culture where "everybody needs to go to university and we've got to find something for people to do".

She added: "People haven't got more stupid, but nor have they got more clever."

This system is partly to blame for a dearth of science and engineering graduates, she said.

Recent figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development showed that New Zealand's workforce has a lower percentage of scientists and engineers than other equivalent nations, such as the US and the UK.

To solve this problem, students should be rewarded for studying "hard" subjects such as science, technology, engineering and maths, Professor Rowarth said.

She also suggested that the Government should introduce measures to ensure that scientists, particularly those with PhDs, were paid more.

She said they should be afforded the same status they were 100 years ago "when they were as respected as medical doctors".

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com.

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