Does a bachelor’s degree cut it?
Roughly 80 per cent of Dutch university students choose to pursue a master’s degree after getting their bachelor’s diploma, according to figures from the ministry of education. But that may change if stricter master’s admissions requirements are put in place.
If students are no longer admitted into master’s degree programmes because their grades are not good enough, they will have to settle for only achieving a bachelor’s diploma. But what is a bachelor’s degree really worth without a master’s degree accompanying it? How likely is it that students who are only equipped with a bachelor’s diploma can find a job?
Based on figures from CBS Statistics Netherlands, it seems that a master’s diploma translates into better chances of getting a job than a bachelor’s degree alone. Among students who got their bachelor’s degree before September 2012, around 50 per cent of them had a paid job by October 2013. Among master’s graduates, that figure was closer to 70 per cent.
‘The master’s programme was really focused on research’
Jouke van Dijk, a professor of regional labour market analysis in the Faculty of Spatial Sciences at the RUG, researched the labour market behaviour of ‘school leavers’ in Dutch higher education. Numbers aside, he emphasises that a bachelor degree does indeed have value unto itself. ‘You have good chances in the job market in both cases. Whether someone with a master’s degree will be more likely to find work largely depends on the individual. If someone is really set on beginning their career, they can get by just fine with a bachelor’s degree.’
Former communications and information sciences student Jansien van Dijk, 26, is a prime example of that. She quit her master’s programme after two weeks because she felt that it lacked a practical approach. ‘I was quite disappointed to find that the master’s programme was really focused on research, which was the opposite of what I was lead to believe it would be. After studying for four and a half years, I was ready to work’, she says. It seems that the working world was also ready for her: within a month, she landed a full time job as a marketing and communications staffer for an online auction house. ‘The job tied in with my academic background perfectly, and it was exactly what I wanted.’
Van Dijk has never gotten comments from potential employers about her lack of a master’s diploma. ‘Since my first job, I’ve never been without a job. I’ve now worked in four different and equally great positions in the marketing and communications field. I have gotten the impression that work experience is much more important than a piece of paper from a master’s programme, at least in my sector.’
‘No one ever asks about my academic background’
Rutger Smit, 26, a former arts, culture and media student, was also eager to get started working. ‘I didn’t enrol in a master’s programme because I saw an opportunity to turn my hobby into a job.’ He is self-employed and works in the world of festival and event production, usually contributing to eight or so a year. Aside from that, he’s also in charge of two theatre groups and also works as a producer at Simplon and De Oosterpoort. ‘I was able to start straight away, pretty much. I had registered myself as self-employed and even before I graduated in the summer, I was already involved with three festivals. In the world where I work now, no one ever asks about my academic background at all, much less whether or not I have a master’s degree,’ Smit says.
According to professor Van Dijk, even though you can just as readily find work with only a bachelor’s degree, that is not to say that a master’s degree is excessive. ‘Anyone who is interested in getting more into the theoretical side of things certainly becomes more knowledgeable on the subject, which could lead to a better job in the future. That also goes for PhD candidates. If you are up for it and you are good at it, it could mean a better job and earning more money. Doing what you are most interested in yields the best results.’
Van Dijk adds one caveat, however. ‘It could turn out that some employers may wonder what is wrong with you if you stop after your bachelor’s degree.’
Student faction SOG also doubts that Dutch employers are truly ready for university graduates without a master’s diploma. ‘In America and England, it’s perfectly normal for students to only have a bachelor’s degree, but here, it is still quite exceptional. We think that the Dutch job market is not prepared for that yet. It will probably take some time. If students try to enter the workforce en masse with only a bachelor’s degree, that could be a problem’, SOG faction chairperson Anne van der Wolff explains.
Lijst Calimero is also uncertain about the prospects for first-time job seekers without a master’s diploma. ‘The Dutch labour market has many different sectors, and most of them are simply not ready for students without a master’s degree or are not willing to take that risk. In most fields, you’re simply not considered ‘ripe’ for the professional world’, says Lijst Calimero chairperson Nathalie Niehof.
But there are exceptions to the rule, Niehof acknowledges. ‘We know very well that there are some sectors where a master’s degree doesn’t have a whole lot of added value. Computer science and artificial intelligence students can find work quite easily, even if they’ve barely just finished their bachelor courses.’
Professor Van Dijk expects that the way employers from other professional fields in the Netherlands regard students without a master’s degree will soon change. ‘They may find it strange now, but they will eventually make that switch.’