Bachelor doubts

A Degree of Skepticism

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No longer something to celebrate?
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The bachelor’s degree may be losing its place as the gold-standard higher education qualification among German employers, forcing students to study for longer to remain competitive in the job market.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The survey found that science and technology firms had particularly low rates of bachlelor-only recruits.
    • Master’s degrees appear to be the new standard.
    • Surveys have revealed that up to 90 percent of today’s students plan to study to master’s level.
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  • Audio

    Audio

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Has the bachelor’s degree had its day? That’s the prospect thrown up by a Handelsblatt survey of major German employers, which has found wide discrepancies in the amount of weight given to the qualification.

The bachelor degree is classified as the standard degree with which college graduates arm themselves before entering a profession. However, with competition hotting up in the job market, many academics are now advising students to further their studies and complete a master’s degree. And while many employers claim to welcome bachelor’s degrees, which can take as little as six semesters to obtain, there is a suspicion that they are increasingly viewed as lightweight.

In Germany, the bachelor’s degree is relatively new; up until 1999, most German students studied for combined degrees which were roughly equivalent to a master’s. A reform harmonized higher education qualifications throughout Europe, which meant German students could opt for a bachelor’s degree without necessarily obtaining a master’s.

Science and technology companies fared particularly badly.

Handelsblatt asked the 30 companies represented in Germany’s leading Dax stock market index and other major firms to reveal the percentage of recently recruited employees with higher education qualifications who had studied only up to bachelor’s level. The results showed that while almost all stressed they were open to applications from holders of any degree, only a few hire bachelor-only graduates in large numbers.

At Deutsche Bank and Deutsche Post, for example, roughly a third of newly-hired graduates have only a bachelor’s degree, and at others, such as Lufthansa, Bosch and Merck, the percentage is closer to 40 percent. But the government-owned development bank, KfW, didn’t have a single one in its trainee program in 2013.

Science and technology companies fared particularly badly. At companies such as Infineon and Lanxess, the percentage of bachelors tends to hover around ten percent. This is perhaps no surprise given that Horst Hippler, president of The German Rectors’ Conference, recently said that someone with a bachelor degree is, in his opinion, no physicist. It was said at one of the companies that a master’s degree is the standard, particularly when it comes to engineering or computer science jobs.

Other companies had much higher percentages of bachelor-level recruits. Commerzbank hit almost 50 percent, while Deutsche Telekom was around 70 percent. “We have had very good experience with the bachelor graduates of recent years,” Deutsche Telekom said.

Big Differences

 

The numbers, however, are difficult to compare. “It could be that some of the bachelor graduates took part in dual training progams at companies and were counted as new hires,” said Christian Scholz, a personnel management professor in Saarbrücken, a city in western Germany. This is the case at Commerzbank and Deutsche Telekom. At the latter, more than half of the bachelor graduates hired are dually-trained graduates, meaning that they alternate between practical experience and study phases.

Handelsblatt also asked more than 40 companies for a breakdown of the degree status of college graduates who undertook placements with them in 2013. Some 20 reported that they did not keep such statistics. “If that were the case, then it doesn’t say much for the professionalism of the human resources department,” said Mr. Scholz, who notes that degrees should be included in the graduate’s application.

Many professors are saying that only a master’s is a real degree and employers are sending ambiguous signals.

The question that remains is whether companies are accepting fewer bachelors, or if fewer bachelor graduates are looking for jobs. The evidence would point to the latter. Surveys have shown that, depending on the subject studied, up to 90 percent of students planned to continue to a master’s degree.

Job market uncertainty is likely to blame. Plus, many professors have said that only a master’s is a real degree and employers are sending ambiguous signals. Christiane Konegen-Grenier, of the Cologne Institute for Economic Research, has concluded that bachelor holders are “very discouraged.”

But such people shouldn’t be too downhearted. Of all the job applications from graduates at Lufthansa last year, 41.5 percent had bachelor-level degrees only. The percentage among those hired was just as high.

According to the latest figures, 2014 is looking a little different. The percentage of applicants with only a bachelor’s degree was just as high as in the previous year, but of those hired, only a third lacked higher degrees. That may be a fluke, but Mr. Scholz sees a fundamental problem. “There is no job description for a bachelor graduate, and there will probably never be one.”

 

The author is an editor at Handelsblatt focusing on general education issues. To contact the author: hergert@handelsblatt.com

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