Dr Alice Violett
Book witterings and PhD archive

Graduate earnings aren’t a valid measure of anything

Today, hot on the heels of my admission that I just want to do what I love and enough money to be comfortable rather than earn loads but hate my job, I will mostly be ranting about the use of graduate earnings to evaluate how good a course/university is.  It really bugs me that the proposed TEF in particular is measured by graduate earnings, as though teaching has anything to do with what jobs a student wants to do/finds available, not to mention that for teaching to be effective, the student has to want to do the work!

So, one reason that graduate earnings are a terrible metric is, as I indicated above, some people value enjoying their work over huge financial gains.  The current government in particular seems to think that everyone wants to get rich, not to mention having really skewed ideas of what people can live off and earn (cuts to disabled allowances, immigrants having to earn the arbitrary and way above average sum of £35,000).  It seems that, for them, the pinnacle of achievement is working in the city.  Never mind that those jobs aren’t that appealing to the right-brained, money is the only thing that is important, possibly because it’s easier to measure than job satisfaction, work/life balance, or good mental health.  Working long hours with numbers sounds like hell to me.  Give me research, writing, ideas, and going home to do things other than sleep any day.

Another reason is that a lot of jobs people want to do and/or should be encouraged to do, aren’t that well-paid, especially for the first few years.  We need teachers and nurses, but they don’t earn a lot, which is a scandal considering how much work they have to do and how important it is.  If you’re starting out in, say, journalism, or publishing, chances are you’ll be in lowly-paid entry-level jobs for a while before you can move up the ladder.  It’s the nature of the game, unfortunately, and metrics don’t take that into account, expecting more or less instant results.

Furthermore, due to individual circumstances, earnings just aren’t a relevant measurement for some graduates.  If you did a degree to keep you occupied in retirement, or decide to go straight to parenthood next, or have to care for someone, or can only work part-time for whatever reason (one of the previous circumstances, or illness/disability, for example), or graduate during a recession, you’re not necessarily going to have the formulaic ‘school-university-employment’ path.  Using graduate earnings as a measurement is way too simplistic for the myriad of differences in graduates’ ambitions, chosen paths, and fortunes.