Education has many advantages but making a level of qualification as much a requirement for migration as a passport threatens to undermine the whole education system and the drive to self-directed learning.
Speaking yesterday on The Andrew Marr Show, Jacqui Smith, the UK Home Secretary, said that highly-skilled non-EU migrants coming to the UK would need to be able to prove their skills with a Masters degree and a previous salary level equivalent to at least GBP20k unless they were being brought in by an employer to do a job that had already been advertised to British workers. Let us assume she meant to say ‘advertised in Britain to British and other EU workers’ and just look at the implications of the rest of the proposal.
Firstly, widespread Masters qualifications are a very new phenomenon. Within living memory, it was possible to achieve a masters degree just by attending the right university and living one extra year. More recently, following the Bologna Process, there has been an attempt in Europe to harmonise understanding of what constitutes a Masters degree but even the most ardent Bologna supporter would have to concede that one year and two year courses, taught and untaught, applied and theoretical, requiring research and not, based on rigorous Bachelors’ degrees and not – EU Masters degrees are variable. Extend that beyond the EU and selection for progression within global academia to a particular PhD in any country is very much an art form relying on the PhD supervisor understanding the applicant’s background as well as believing them to be suitable candidates. The weak fall back on stereotypes that are long out of date. I still recall with amused horror the middle-ranking US university that greeted an approach from one of Asia’s foremost universities with the considered opinion that they would have to carry out a full validation visit to see if it was up to scratch – and never thought of the reverse. That’s not a smug Brit saying all is perfectly understood in UK academe (it isn’t!) but just one personal example from a globe-trotting career. Still, if ‘Masters’ is a moveable standard, it would be possible to set up a United Nations academic accreditation body to whom all other accrediting authorities would have to submit so what other objections are there?
Firstly, it is ageist. That may sound silly but as the UK testing of the young intensifies, it is often forgotten – even by MPs who never have to get an academic degree in MP-ing – that qualifications are relatively new. There were the infamous trunk-loads of papers for NVQs in the 1990s but, by and large, one got a degree or didn’t and just got on with learning and progressing in a – probably unrelated – career without any thought for ‘qualifications’.
Second, other countries had and continue to have different cultures. To this day the French Grandes Ecoles give an advantage that no mere university can supply and the exam system for promotion is rigid. In countries such as Romania where political events caused sea changes in what and who and how, or South Korea where opportunities burst forth, knowledge and economic value may be assured through very different routes. James Dyson recently bemoaned the fact that the British, in their pursuit of academic measures, stamp the inventive curiosity out of children. Does any nation really want new (or old!) academic measures as the sole arbiter of value?
Thirdly, governments are not individual-focused careers agents with all-seeing fortune-telling abilities. It would, therefore, be calamitous if everyone signed up for the latest ‘need’ with a related Masters degrees as Sian Griffiths, the successful journalist and would-be child psychologist discovered.
Fourthly: the GBP20k. Does this mean no British Bachelors graduate can expect 2ok ever – not even with lots of experience? And there can be no allowance for lifelong learning and general experience – ever? Bear in mind some of the high street adverts for shelf fillers and one-foreign-language-at GCSE call centre staff.
You can read the full Andrew Marr transcript of the Jacqui Smith interview here. Start part-way down after the expenses explanation.
Comments on this very welcome! Am I way out of line here?