Why is Computer Science degree worth 20% of History Degree to a man but twice as much to a woman?

As part of the follow up to my first blog on the effects on Digital Skills of the Spring Budget I have been looking at some of the back up material. I began with “Fixing the Foundations” which contains excellent measures. The main ones include: 

  • “employer-routed funding reforms, such as the digital apprenticeships voucher, are putting control of funding directly into hands of employers
  • apprenticeships will be given equal legal treatment to degrees, to ensure that apprentices and employers can be given confidence in the brand
  •  the government will abolish employer NICs for almost all apprentices under the age of 25 from April 2016
  •  the government will set apprenticeship targets for public sector bodies”

It also says, albeit thinking mainly about the FE sector:

“The government wants strong local areas and employers to take a leading role in establishing a post 16 skills system that is responsive to local economic priorities …the government will enable local involvement in the ongoing commissioning of provision, putting power in the hands of people who are best placed to tailor provision to local economic needs”

Then l took look at the “Fixing a broken system: the case for an apprenticeship levy“. This  contains some excellent material but can also be seen as defence of formal apprenticeships (using off-the-job, FE-based modules, defined by Industry Training Boards), against the new world of flexible, workplace, on-line distance learning, using skills frameworks agreed by employer-led Sector Skills Councils (now “Partnerships”). It also implies that the use of apprenticeships to train older staff (as opposed to new teenage recruits) in the retail, hospitality and care industries is an “abuse” and not to be copied by others.

I think we need a more profound look at the role of FE in a digital world and look forward to helping publicise some of the initiatives to which I referred in my recent blog on how the “Creative Industries” are working with bottom up college-based consortia

Finally I took a look at the catchy titled: “The impact of University Degrees on the lifecycle of earnings: some further analysis“. This is used to justify the claim that the Net Present Value of a degree is 170,000 for a man and 264,000 for a woman. I remember the controversy when it was first published. Table 16, Page 54 showed that social studies and arts/design had a negative value while Engineering/Tech had barely any value. Part of the reason was said to do with the methodology. This did not take into account the need for further qualifications (as with Medicine, Law and Accounting) or the way that earnings in design and engineering are affected by apprenticeships (which may be pre- or post- graduate and may, or may not, include a modular degree).

The weakness of the “premium” (alias NPV for the individual) for maths and computing degrees, (100,000 for a man and 243,000 for a woman)  is harder to explain, until one looks at the high average unemployment rates among computer science graduates. If fact this masks a range from under 2%, for the ITMB (I need to check whether this is included with Computer Science or Business and Management) to over 50% for some universities and course). 

Meanwhile the NPV for a History/Philosophy degree is 557,000 for a man but only 113 for a woman – hence the headline for this blog.

The message for me is the importance of one of the actions in “Fixing the Foundations” :

“The government will improve destination data to enable informed choices.  The government is supporting the development of online portals to present all post 16 learning options to young  people in a user-friendly way, and is strengthening the provision of destination and earnings data. The new careers and enterprise company will encourage greater collaboration between schools, colleges and employers, helping young people to access the best advice.”

It will be hard enough for the Careers and Enterprise company to achieve its current objectives (which appear focused on FE choices)  but we also need to ensure much better advice for those deciding whether to incur 50,000 of debt for an uncertain return or to enter into an apprenticeship contract, perhaps one which includes a modular degree, with a local employer, or one who will provide (or offer help with)  accommodation that is a least as good as that they might expect at “Uni”.