Friday, 10 May 2013

# 61 (2013) Mickey Mouse Courses - following your dream or a waste of time?

Vocational study is never far from the limelight where the news is concerned. Our UK education system is often slammed, shaken up and reworked by a Government eager to stay in power but struggling under a burgeoning number of students in the system with nowhere for them to go when they leave education. How do you keep them on - by letting them study whatever they want?

'Mickey Mouse' subjects, as so many of these degrees have now been branded, are under close scrutiny. Some of them seem completely pointless and even more give students nothing to help them in the real world of work. But surely some degrees are only perceived as 'Micky Mouse' because we don't have the industry left in this country now to absorb those talented graduates? Many craft, hands on or creative degrees are classed as 'Mickey Mouse' because our manufacture status has been lost leaving many graduates 'qualified' for their first job but unable to find relevant work.

Back in 2003 Margaret Hodge, the Higher Education Minister, defined a 'Mickey  Mouse' course as one 'where the content is perhaps not as rigorous as one would expect and where the degree itself may not have huge relevance in the labour market.' By that standard many vocational courses would fall into this category because they are less academic and because the industry is limited in terms of earning potential.

The ONS publication Graduates in the Labour Market, 2012 published in March 2006 does make for sober reading and clearly demonstrates that their financial contribution is considerably lower than those in academic subjects.

Some A-level courses also fall into this category but are more blatant in their vague direction and dubious titles. 'General Studies' or 'Critical Thinking' don't count towards University applications and many general media based studies are included under the 'Mickey Mouse' umbrella. However, these studies are carried out along side a whole host of other subjects which go on to form a broader education. A degree is more focused but courses such as 'David Beckham Studies', 'Surf Sciences' and 'Golf Management' do make you wonder what on earth is going on. How are students going to apply these courses in other areas of work if they don't get the career they are after?

Last year The Mail claimed that 9 out of 10 sixteen year old students will take at least one Mickey Mouse subject. Alongside useful subjects this is all well and good, but when they progress to university level still nurturing these as useful areas of study it does become a concern.

Many vocational subjects are important. One day when we are all sick of cheap imports, farming work abroad and need to expand our workforce effectively we will have a manufacture industry again that will be able to employ more of these graduates and those less academically able. For now it's about getting by. And if being skilled at admin, working in a call centre or selling cars are the gap fillers that keep a roof over the heads of our creative graduates in the short term, then so be it.

I'd still rather be in a humdrum day job and able to buy food and pay rent, than spending my days being creative and living off tinned beans in a tiny houseshare.

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