Degrees of freedom

BestCourse4Me.com is a very interesting site which has just been launched by my friends Ros & Steve Edwards. It lets you compare different UK degrees and universities to see what their graduates actually went on to do afterwards, with the aim of allowing students – for example those from poorer backgrounds who may not get much support from their schools or parents – to make more informed choices about whether to do a degree, and if so, which one.

So, for example, you can find out that, six months after graduation, Computer Scientists are paid more than Architects or Lawyers – hurrah! – but they’re more than twice as likely to be unemployed. On the other hand, over 8% of Law graduates are soon afterwards employed as ‘Sales Assistants and Retail Cashiers’ – that’s nearly as many as for History! Oxford graduates earn a bit more than Cambridge graduates, at least initially, but then I guess they need some kind of compensation.

The site raises lots of questions – but that’s a good thing – even if all it does is start discussions about what’s behind the numbers. For example, Oxford graduates earn less and are much more likely to be unemployed than graduates of the Open University, which might be surprising if you didn’t know that OU graduates are generally quite a bit older and often employed at the time they take their degrees. Even the numbers I quoted above need some interpretation. They refer to a point six months after graduation. So law graduates may be employed as cashiers, and earning less than their hacker contemporaries, but that is massively skewed by the fact that 6 months after graduation, lawyers are still qualifying – perhaps they’re paying their way with an evening job, or perhaps they didn’t get a place at law school and have a temporary job until next year.

The site could be a valuable educational experience in itself on how to interpret statistics. I hope that kids get that kind of education before looking at it. Otherwise they might become computer scientists under the mistaken impression that it’s a better-paid profession than law. Trust me…

My friend and colleague Garry has become something of a poster child for the project, as he has achieved an impressive career path from a rather disadvantaged background – so much so that he appeared in The Sun today – see the section on the right-hand side of this page.

This means that he has added to his list of achievements perhaps the greatest accomplishment yet: to appear in the Sun and yet emerge with your dignity intact!

1 Comment

Very interesting post about http://www.bestcourse4me.com and the need for an education on how to interpret statistics in order for university applicants to make sense of the data shown, it’s the same for http://unistats.direct.gov.uk/ actually. And it is something we hope to provide in our proposed online resource for potential applicants – I agree with you it is important also to start discussions about what’s behind the numbers.

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