While technically summer should still be in full swing, the cool weather and consistent rain is feeling very autumnal. That back-to-school mentality has been dragged forward a few weeks, and alongside lots of other positive news stories, a plethora of soon-to-be students are now on the cusp of believing their degree is “low value”.
In July, Rishi Sunak announced a backlash against ‘low value’ degrees. How are we measuring low value? “The key metrics are continuation rates, completion rates and graduate outcomes” according to The Guardian. “Graduate outcomes” feels vague and is measured approximately 15 months out of university, which to me doesn’t feel long at all.
For context, 15 months out of University, I’d just been sacked from my first ever graduate job in marketing after studying English Literature…it was the worst of times.
I whole heartedly support the idea that governments should support those who choose to get a degree to reap tangible benefits. But I don’t think branding any degree as ‘low value’ is the way to go. Your degree (if you choose to get one) is as valuable as you make it.
So I spoke to a few brilliant women in fintech whose degrees aren’t directly related to their field, and what they learned along the way.
“Given recent discussions about ‘useless’ degrees in the press, I have to say I’m not sure there is such a thing.” says Anda Grodsky, Chief of Staff at PXP Financial. “Taken at face value, studying Communication and Journalism at University of Vienna in Austria could be considered ‘useless’; it’s certainly far cry from my current role as Chief of Staff at a leading fintech firm.”
It’s true, surely anything could be considered technically ‘useless’ if we’re not using it.
Olivia Minnock, a former fintech journalist now working in a fintech startup agrees: “I do see a lot of – sometimes deliberate – ignorance about the transferable skills most degrees offer. We can’t steer people away from Arts degrees and then wonder why the ability to think critically, argue with nuance and recognise media bias seems to be in decline.”
Branding any degree as ‘useless’ does undermine the significant value of transferable skills. ‘Useless’ is also incredibly subjective, which is clear from some of the degrees studied by the women in this piece.
Philippa Artus, Head of Marketing in Payments and Fintech at Monavate had a different experience, with a strong and broad degree that should be useful across the board: “I studied business management, which I guess links to my role as head of marketing, but I’m not sure learning about business law and HR helped that much. I’d say I discovered an understanding of the wider picture, not just marketing being a siloed department.”
A business management degree sounds pretty useful, and we can confirm that it was tactically chosen that way. “I picked a degree because it sounded generic enough to surely be helpful in one way or another. I never knew what elements of my degree would come in handy.”
Selma Piper, founder of Fintech Fiends chose Modern Chinese and Japanese for her undergraduate studies. While it sounds absolutely fascinating, it’s not an obvious course to take before starting a communications consultancy. “As well as opening my eyes to different ways of doing things, it gave me a belief that I can succeed without having the usual qualifications or experience. This helped me secure fascinating roles and navigate unlikely career changes…”
While I loved studying Literature, the content of my degree has very little relevance to my day-to-day tasks in PR or as part of a global listed fintech business. I could talk for hours about the manipulative language techniques used by Iago in Othello, but repeating “put money in thy budget” simply doesn’t work on my directors. A travesty.
But it taught me plenty of other things, like long term planning over semesters not weeks. Staying up to date with lengthy reading lists, and crucially how to talk about things I had not read.
Minnock feels the same: “I have a degree in Literature and History but I am not Senior Literature and History Manager at Literature and History Limited. I simply understood how the skills I learned in my degree and extracurricular activities – research, debate, communication, analysis – could be used and further developed in the world of work.”
So when it comes to a low value degree, and whether you have one, or are going to have one, I hope it’s of some value to know the whole concept is redundant. A qualification in law can be as ‘useless’ as theatre depending on what you do next.
And your choice of degree shouldn’t hold you back. And it definitely shouldn’t stop you from choosing an unrelated career as a next step.
Minnock says: “Degrees are only useless if the person taking them treats them that way (and this can be the case for most subjects) or if employers pigeonhole people and put arbitrary demands in job descriptions.”
And Grosky wisely adds: “My advice to anyone who wants to try something unrelated to their degree, and therefore probably outside their comfort zone, is to go for it. Like everything in life, you won’t know if it’s a good fit unless you try it. You never know, you might get as lucky as me and fall in love with a career you never knew existed.”