I was reading an article the other day about this survey done by the CIBC about Canada’s University graduates. The report appeared to be a cost-benefit analysis on university education and the Canadian labour market. Canada has one of the highest percentages of university graduates in the world, but of course this fact, as framed by the article, is not all sun and roses. Most of this education is apparently wasted on degrees not serving the labour market. They are referring of course to degrees in the humanities.

The article goes into an analysis of the benefit-return and demonstrates that contrary to popular belief people with a post-secondary education do not pop into high paying, highly valued jobs, but instead earn far less than they ought. The reason is explained by the fact that most people are still getting ‘useless’ degrees and not pursuing an education in the high-demand fields of business, law, medicine or science. Students should be choosing their future livelihoods based on marketplace indicators.

First of all it is incredibly facile to believe that it is wise to choose a future profession based solely on market predictions or current market needs. Where do talent, skill or inclination fit into this? These jobs are filled by humans, not robots, and quite frankly, not everyone can do them no matter how much training they get.

Not addressed in this article were the gender-bias and socio-economic factors which prevented the interested in pursuing careers in these career paths, rather it was focused on the choices made away from them.

It is much like the drive of Canadian universities to establish schools of business to train tomorrow’s business leaders. They are able to convince companies to sink millions of dollars into these schools, equipping them with the latest technology in shiny glass buildings. I have nothing against business degrees, but won’t equipping so many with business leadership skills not create a vacuum in the lower levels of enterprise? And to be fair, how many of these business leaders who invest in these programs actually themselves possess a similar educational background?

This article essentially dismisses the value of a humanities degree. Why not go into something useful seems to be the message. I will state my own bias, I have three degrees in history, and am fortunate enough to have been hired for my skills and experience as a historian. That being said, not everything I am required to do in my work is purely historical. But the skills I obtained earning my degrees still serve me outside of historical work. Because of my formation I am able to critically research and analyse information, evaluate it, and diffuse it into reports and databases. My education gives me a foundation of knowledge where I can contextualise information and understand its relevance.

One of the main points made by this study was that those with degrees in the humanities don’t receive the same kind of remuneration as those who are in the sciences, etc. Very true. The market does not pay people with humanities degrees nearly as well as those with other kinds of degrees. But does that mean that we should chuck humanities? No, we should start considering that value does not lie merely in law or medicine.

Check out the original article here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/story/2013/08/26/mb-grads-majors-employment-pay-winnipeg.html?autoplay=true

Another version of this news story is here: http://kitchener.ctvnews.ca/students-picking-wrong-fields-getting-poor-return-on-their-education-report-1.1427017