Degree in Prestige—Is It Worth It?24 April 2018
In 2015, Excellence in Research for Australia found that over fifty disciplines at the University of Melbourne produced research that was “well above world standard.”
This is a source of pride for the University, a fact they are more than eager to share with staff and students on their website. A less advertised tidbit of information, however, is that the University of Melbourne is having far less impressive results in surveys of its student support and teaching quality in the Good Universities Guide’s independent annual survey.
Universities like the University of Sunshine Coast and the University of Wollongong are earning five-star ratings from graduate students in these catergories, putting them in the top 20 per cent of Australian universities for student support and teaching quality. Meanwhile, Melbourne can be found closer to the bottom of the list for student support, fighting for last place with the University of Sydney with just 63.5 per cent of Melbourne University graduates giving the University positive reports for student support.
(Source: Good Universities Guide 2018)
Anna* a third-year Bachelor of Arts student majoring in psychology is not surprised about the university’s rankings. “The majority of the lecturers I have encountered in the past two years seemed very not passionate about their job. I could not help falling asleep in every lecture, because it’s very hard to understand what the lecturers were talking about.”
She was one of many students who were drawn to study at the University of Melbourne because of the prestige surrounding the University. In her year of admission, the University was ranked #33 in the Times Higher Education (THE) world rankings.
In 2018, the University’s ranking has risen to #32, but what does that actually mean?
If we refer to THE’s methodology, teaching only accounts for 30 per cent of what makes a university the “best” in the world, even less if we considered the relevance of all the subsections within teaching. On the other hand, a huge proportion of the score (60 per cent) is determined by the quality of research conducted at the University.
(Source: Times Higher Education)
Whilst producing influential research is definitely a key factor in assessing higher education institutes, and one our University is happy to market itself on, prospective students who want to graduate with a bachelor’s degree and transition into the workforce do not always gain additional value from this.
Based off her experiences, Anna believes that “the bachelor’s degree at Unimelb does not provide enough knowledge for students to enter the workforce upon graduation.” Her views are backed by how the University fares in the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) which, like the Good Universities Guide, is based entirely on the first-hand experience of graduates.
The University of Melbourne, when compared to our neighbouring universities, fared worse than Deakin, Swinburne and Monash in terms of overall quality of educational experience as well as graduate satisfaction, receiving scores under the national average in both cases.
Dissatisfaction from graduates can perhaps be partially attributed to the University’s Melbourne Model, introduced in 2008, which encourages students to complete a broad undergraduate degree followed by more specialised graduate study. Under the model, undergraduate study is regarded as an opportunity for experimentation with a wide range of subject areas and disciplines, rather than purely a vehicle for gaining entrance to the workplace. While the reduced focus on graduate employability is off-putting for some, other students relish the opportunity for broad study.
Third-year mechanical engineering student Hans Gao feels like his undergraduate degree has definitely been worth it.
“The opportunities to study subject areas outside of my chosen field is something I really appreciate … although I am studying engineering, I also have a passion for languages and the more arts based knowledge areas.”
He enjoys filling his timetable with an eclectic selection of breadth subjects, dabbling in areas spanning phonetics, dance, French and pure mathematics. With that being said, he does admit that “sometimes you do indeed get lecturers and tutors who, although extremely knowledgeable in their field, are not able to relate to a student’s questions and problems.”
Whether you agree with the results or not, something is clearly not adding up between our high scores on world level rankings, bolstered by research projects, and our abysmal results when it comes to satisfaction with university teaching as determined by authentic student voices.
Finally, another factor to consider when weighing up tertiary degrees is that it is not just students who buy into the prestige of a Melbourne Uni degree. According to research by the Grattan Institute in 2016, differences in graduate income are influenced by what university you attended.
“Differences among universities may not be directly due to teaching quality. Employers may simply believe, rightly or wrongly, that graduates from some universities are better than others, and favour them in job recruitment.”
Although, in the same research paper it is noted that gender and degree type were both more influential factors in determining the earning potential of graduates.
Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with consulting rankings when considering what university to attend, however it is important to consider how the ranking is determined and whether it is relevant to you and what you want to get out of your degree.
*Name changed for privacy reasons