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May 18, 2014 | by  | in Opinion VUWSA | [ssba]

Sonya Says

Last week, alongside over 2000 other Victoria students, I graduated. With my pale pink fluffy hood and a hat (‘trencher’) that was a little too big for my head, I proudly crossed the stage, shook the Pro-Chancellor’s hand and returned to my seat. It’s been really special to go to all of the graduation ceremonies this week.

Graduation is a pretty special experience – if you haven’t done it yet, you can’t help feeling uplifted when you hear the “That’s my girl!” shouted across the Michael Fowler Centre, or when an entire family stands up and cheers at their family member crossing the stage. After three, four or more years of late nights, money stresses and lots of coffee, completing your degree is something definitely worth celebrating.

Among all the celebrations, though, graduation is also a time when we are confronted about the reality of the future. For many students, May is six months after finishing study – and graduation starts to prompt those awkward discussions – who has that good graduate job, and who is still waiting for that ‘expensive piece of paper’ to eventuate in related work.

It is really important to have a highly educated society where people have the ability to think critically about society and how we can improve it. Hopefully, your degree means you have gained some broader perspectives and ways to think about the world, and those skills are valuable to employers.

It is of concern that an undergraduate degree is starting to mean something less than it used to. As more people graduate with degrees, something called degree inflation happens – where your degree doesn’t hold the same value that it used to, because the less rare something is, the less value it holds in the job market. This sees increasing pressure on people to keep studying – to enrol in Honours or Master’s. Wikipedia says that degree inflation leads to overqualified people doing jobs where that specialised knowledge may not be necessary.

I worry that the competitive economy requires more qualifications for jobs that didn’t previously require them, and means that students feel pressured to undertake higher levels of study that they may not be able to afford. When Student Allowances for postgraduate students were cut two years ago, it made it a whole lot harder for students to see postgraduate study as a viable pathway.

As thousands of students graduate this week, they leave with a university experience and newly earned critical-thinking skills that promise them greater opportunities throughout the rest of their lives. That was the promise, and most students get a lot out of their time at university. But we need a broader discussion about increasing degree inflation – and whether it will be accessible for students in the future to get the higher level of qualifications demanded of them in the job market.

Sonya Clark
VUWSA President


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