Posted by: Gillian | September 17, 2009

Useful university degrees

Yesterday’s excellent BILD Connect event and AGM was held in the Birmingham Conservatoire and that gave the chance to reflect on the question of how useful a university degree should be or, in other words, is employability everything?  The recent Vitae09 conference (that I could only follow online) spent much energy discussing the funding and training of research students in the UK and the associated Twitter conversation (#vitae09) again raised the question of whether there should be ‘academic’ degrees and ‘supertech’ degrees.  This argument has been raging for many years and variant terms are ‘real’ or ‘research’ degrees versus ‘applied’ or even ‘Mickey Mouse’.  Feelings run high and research, not blessed with hundred per cent foresight, is necessarily historical so what does a potential student believe or do?  The Birmingham Conservatoire under George Caird has gone a long way to providing a curricular model for a way forward.

As we listened to the superb playing of Di Xiao (if you are in that market, do book her for a recital as piano is not my favourite instrument and she just makes it paint pictures in the mind), we witnessed what students can and should expect from universities in terms of usefulness.  The Conservatoire degree understandably has a very large instrumental/vocal element but the scheduled thirty per cent of  ‘other’ splits into specialisms for performance, teaching, community and ‘academic’.  There are even talks on funding PG study (for the more academic route) or (for performers) dealing with tax.  Each post-graduate route is given  respect and support and the core curriculum is the same.  The aim is to foster skills and interests, not to pigeon-hole them and choke them off.

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