Friday, January 11, 2013

Why Some Countries Care More About Degrees

Alan Punches
Photo by Beth Punches
In your quest to be an expat, there is always the question of whether or not you're going to need a university degree to move abroad. For many fields, such as engineering or medicine, of course you'll need a degree. For other fields, such as marketing or IT, many people are self-taught and a degree is not necessary. However, when I wrote about Germany struggling to find workers for the Blue Card program, I thought (and still think), that the Germans were premature in worrying about it. However, a German friend of mine got in touch with me and painted a slightly different picture.

Germany, amongst other things, tremendously values a university degree. Many otherwise qualified candidates for jobs are overlooked because of this. I have one friend who has a over a decade of top-notch marketing experience and a very strong CV who was turned down for jobs in Germany just for that lack of a degree. You could be genetically engineered as the perfect fit for a given job in Berlin only to be turned down over that lack of a degree. Many, many people are frustrated by this.

Here in France, it's often the same problem. A university degree is very highly valued and as many people will tell you: if you don't have a degree, even if you do get a job, you can forget about significant career advancement (note: not all companies are this foolish, but it's a problem here). For many companies, management positions are reserved for people with pieces of paper and you're less likely to get a work permit without one.

In the UK, it was different. Nobody cared if I had a degree. Nobody cared if I had a degree in the US (I have an Associate's Degree, but big whoop). What they cared about was results and I've got a strong CV showing results.

So what's the difference? What's so different about the German and French cultures that many companies prefer education over experience?

I suspect I know what's going on and after chatting with my wife, she confirmed it: university education is so dirt cheap in Germany and France that if you don't have a degree, the question "why not?" is immediately raised. Clearly something must be wrong with you if you didn't take that virtually free education, right? In both the US and the UK, graduation rates have been dropping the past few years and this is due to a combination of a sluggish world economy and astronomical tuition fees. Here in France, however, my wife paid about €2,000 a year to obtain a Master's Degree in French Law. German universities today often charge around €500 per semester.

Contrast that with US tuition rate hikes:
To attend an in-state public college [in the USA] for the 2012-13 academic year, the average overall cost (or "sticker price") for students who don't receive any financial aid rose 3.8% to a record $22,261, according to the report.
Average tuition fees in the UK are only £8,678.36, but given that average salary in the UK is £26,500, that's a significant percentage of annual income.

Perversely, Germans and French are less likely to have a university degree than the British or Americans. Perhaps students value it less because it's so inexpensive (I've heard this before, but only anecdotally).

What about your country? What are your university rates like and how do employers view a university degree?