Educational Attainment

A couple of days ago I saw a tweet from a well-respected name in the cultural sector: he had been at an event for people who worked in the same area of the industry as himself and noted that he was one of the few there who did not have a PhD level qualification.

Several Twitterers of the same ilk and experience level responded with assurances that they didn't have one either and that it had been no barrier to their ongoing career prospects, but it did get me thinking...

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As those of you who may have glanced at this blog over the past few years may have realised, I started this project as part of my undergraduate course when I took the decision to convert my existing qualification to a full BA Honours degree. I did this because I felt that, even when job adverts requested 'BA or similar', those who were in charge of vetting CV's did not take into account the 'similar' aspect of this suggestion and, instead, discarded any applications that didn't have those two magical letters on them.

It helped a little, I think. Though, again, anyone who knew me during the heady days of early twenty-sixteen may have picked up on the fact that it didn't do all that much for my job prospects, as practically everyone has a BA these days, and my ten-years self-employed performance experience in the arts often translates in other areas of the industry to "sits around all day in her PJ's and plays on Facebook."

So I felt as though I needed an extra boost to stand out, and took the plunge to start a Masters Degree. I loved it, and have, in the past twenty-four hours, found out my final grade which, for a perfectionist like myself was slightly less than wonderful, but, all things considered, extremely respectable. However, during the MA, as I was considering my next steps, I began to have this creeping dread that maybe the MA wasn't enough either... maybe I needed the PhD as well?

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I want to work in Dramaturgy and Creative Direction. I want to work in the arts and cultural industries that I have spent my entire life from the age of twelve immersed in and striving for. But I have already spent thousands of pounds in education, courses, and training, to get to the stage where I might be able to contemplate grabbing a toe-hold on the bottom of the ladder. And, due to life-changes right now, it might be some time before I can actually take that leap to grab the rung anyway. In those months I will have fallen behind yet again, and will probably have to pay to take another course, maybe an evening class or online module, in order to catch up and rebuild the confidence that I can do the jobs, and am serious about my career.

Personal gripe aside; where does it end when higher and higher levels of educational attainment are considered a prerequisite for entry-level roles into an industry where wages are notoriously low (or even non-existent as the prevalence of unpaid internships and volunteer schemes shows). There are campaigns to prove that the arts are not elitist, and, for the most part, I agree. The arts themselves may not be elitist, but entry to those who have the power to actually create the art is becoming more and more so as money determines who can afford to train, study, and work in an industry that brings wealth to so many (and by wealth I mean more than in simple monetary terms).

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So, what next? I've moaned for a while now that, if a BA is now an essential requirement for entry into the job market than anything up to this level of education should be free. I don't mind paying for the *edge*, so to speak, that a degree is supposed to bestow, but if it's a necessity, then we shouldn't be made to shell out thousands and thousands of pounds for something that may have little-to-no financial return.

The other suggestion I have is maybe a little more difficult to put into practice: HR and hiring staff should *actually* take into account the "or similar" aspect of a qualification, and look at life experience and skills rather than an arbitrary formulation of letters from the alphabet when determining who might be the best candidate for a role. It's difficult because degrees allow simple classification of a whole person, and everyone loves an easy life.

But people, their skills and passions, are more than two letters (or four, or seven, depending on how you label yourself!) and surely the arts and cultural sectors, out of all of them, should be the first in leading the charge to recognise this?


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