Wednesday 18 September 2019

Experience is more important to bosses than college degrees

Picture posed. Thinkstock Images
Picture posed. Thinkstock Images

Colm Kelpie

A university degree just doesn't pass muster in the business world, a new poll suggests.

Amid concerns and debate about the existence of grade inflation, more than half of small business owners surveyed here believe a third level qualification is becoming increasingly devalued, according to a poll published yesterday.

And under half of those who responded to the survey by UK finance group Close Brothers said there was no substitute for practical experience, while almost a third feel that university degrees are now so commonplace that they have lost some of their meaning.

Harry Parkinson, Close Brothers Commercial Finance Ireland managing director, said the findings are unlikely to be a surprise for many.

"Despite the fact that figures from the Higher Education Authority recorded over 20,000 entrants to universities in Ireland last year, the value of third level education is becoming a subject for debate," he said.

"Our statistics seem to suggest that many employers are beginning to give greater recognition to practical, hands on experience, arguably ahead of academic achievement." The quarterly Close Brothers Business Barometer also suggested that a third of bosses in Ireland said they do not consider a degree to be important when it comes to hiring staff.

The barometer surveys Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and nine regions in England, polling a minimum of 50 businesses in each.

For these results, taken from September's study, just over 75 Irish firms were polled.

In the US especially, universities - including elite colleges like Harvard - have long been dogged with questions over grade inflation, amid concerns higher grades are being handed out to ensure graduates can better compete for high-skilled, high-paying, jobs.

A survey in the UK back in 2012 found that more than three-quarters of graduate recruiters were using a 2:1 degree as their minimum entry requirement amid an intense scramble for graduate employment.

And leading universities there, including Oxford, were embroiled in controversy over grade inflation earlier this year after figures suggested they awarded more degrees than expected.

Dublin Web Summit founder Paddy Cosgrave hit the headlines earlier this year when he suggested that a degree from Trinity had more value than those from other universities.

He had to explain why his company only recruits graduates for internship programmes from Trinity College with a 2:1 degree, or a first-class degree from the country's other colleges. He said a 2:1 degree in Trinity can't be compared with the same level of degree in other universities, as Trinity degrees are four years long compared with three in many cases in other colleges.

Mr Parkinson suggested skills can be developed in other ways.

"Given that SMEs account for 99.7pc of all private sector businesses and employ almost 70pc of the Irish population, it is perhaps time for young people to think differently about their career path," he said.

Figures obtained by 'The Irish Times' earlier this week showed that over the past 10 years, 17.7pc of graduates at Dublin City University (DCU) and University College Cork (UCC) each received a 1st, compared to 12.8PC at Maynooth University and 11.9pc at University College Dublin (UCD).

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