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Abbie Maguire

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The Ruthless Domination of Soft Degrees

Posted: 08/03/2012 16:30

Education has lived under the strain of prestigious personification: it is "the passport to the future", "one quarter preparation and three quarters theatre" and "the lighting of a fire." The word 'education' lingers above the fold in our newspapers, often the victim to an onslaught of criticism and questions, but is education, as naive as it all sounds coming off the tongue, innocent, shrouding the real culprit of what the students endeavour to study?

The elitist Oxbridge's stature is of a height that seems to dwarf any other educational institutions, in constant academic competition to see who reigns number one. Either one sits comfortably ranked at number two, under only a microscopic shadow of their competitor, triumphing over the other 114 universities in the UK. The University of Cambridge's Trinity College classifies A-Levels into four bands of acceptability: A1 (Generally suitable science A-Level), such as, but not limited to, the three branches of science and maths; A2 (Generally suitable arts A-Levels), such as, but not limited to, Language study, English Literature, History and Economics; B1 (A-Levels of limited suitability), such as, but not limited to, Drama, Sociology, Media and Law and C1 (A-Levels only suitable as a forth subject) such as, but not limited to, Computing, Dance, Sport and Photography.

The wildly uneven full list indicates that there is more than double the amount of 'unacceptable A-Levels' classified in the B1 and C1 list than the A1 and A2 subjects. Here is where a revealing light is cast on a shocking reality: what happens when you get a student pursuing solely C1 courses? A more philosophical question to ponder on is why do colleges sacrifice better qualified students for a higher position in league tables like airlines sacrifice the safety of their planes for a reduction in costs? This makes me question the factual integrity of some reports released sporadically about the 'dumbed-down' culture within education: it's not the subject's intensity, merely the subject choice. To this end, I endeavoured to find out what fifty potential graduates yearn to study...

Five out of the 21 subjects they responded with (excluding three which are not mentioned by Cambridge as recognised A-Levels) are classified as only acceptable as fourth subjects, working out to approximately 24%. Seven out of 21 are classified as limited suitability, converting to approximately 33%, thus meaning that the total of A-Levels not branded as generally suitable is 12 out of 21 - a staggering 57%. This also means that a shocking 52% are studying for degrees branded as 'worthless' by top education bosses. Though my research is derived from A-Levels, not degrees, it is unrealistic to assume that they will be considered acceptable at degree level - a level of study usually directly prior to employment. If we replace A-Levels with degrees and Cambridge with a high-paid job: the comparison doesn't look so imprecise and thus becomes a realistic portrayal of the competitive and precarious job market.

It is clear the degrees chosen at universities have become a direct reflection of the educational direction entailed in collegial curriculums, but now sixth forms have been made compulsory, is there a tragic consequence staring us demonically in the face: will universities become more tolerant towards soft A Levels to preach their soft degrees? Institutions offering Media Studies has rampantly increased from 37 to an extortionate 111, whilst intense scientific degrees have been discontinued in many universities up and down the country with the demand slumping by almost a third as a result of lack of student and lecturer knowledge. The soft degree culture is showing its adverse effect on the institutions themselves: the line between appeal and prestige blurs.

I ask myself why students are encouraged to study these kinds of degrees and the two words synonymous with teenage culture hurtle into my mind: 'fun' and 'easy', when the harsh reality is job-hunting is not always fun, nor easy. Should league tables only take into account A1, A2 and some B1 subjects as they showcase students' capabilities at an intense level of study that will be them in contingency for the majority of jobs in many top-earning industries? Clearly so many are uninformed of the bias that shrouds the top universities that will become out of their reach. So, who's going to step up and inform them?

There is a plausible explanation for the exponential growth of 'softer subjects': fewer educational institutions require AAB entry requirements (including two intense subjects), which is a catalyst for yet another question: if universities are now much easier to get into, why have university applications dropped by 43,473 this year?.

 
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