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Is the degree worth it?
Following on from cmdr sven and the NVQ thread...

As an industry, archaeology is the lowest paid graduate career in the U.K. It is probably one of the most unreliable careers in terms of continuing employment, rarely offers structured training or advancement and until very recently (and this is still arguable) offers some of the worst terms and conditions of employment. A new graduate can expect (if lucky enough to be taken on) an income comparable with (and often less than) the wages of a bin-man, a toilet cleaner, or a rat-catcher.

Is a degree an acceptable pre-requisite for a career in archaeology? Simple answer-no.

Is it worth the effort,time and debt to acquire a degree that will propell a graduate into the dizzy heights of shared housing, broken cars, seasonal unemployment and empty bank accounts? Well, lots of us think so and have lived the dream for decades so perhaps more fool us. For prospective undergrads, weighing up the pros and cons needs an input of fact and sadly, glossy university prospectus`, Time team and Indiana Jones are just about all there is.

Depending on who you ask, the lack of an appropriate degree is not a barrier to employment in archaeology. There are oodles of extremely competent and highly professional archaeologists out here without a degree. I think, a couple of questions need to be asked here;

1. If the industry requires graduates, why does it pay non-graduate wages?
2. If degrees in archaeology are needed for entry into the industry, why do they not prepare undergrads for that industry?
3. If degrees are not valued by the industry and, degrees offered by universities are inadequate for entry into the industry, why bother with the debt of acquiring a degree in the first place?

A seemingly crazy place to be. Before you all start throwing rocks at me, this post is offered in order to open dialogue and I may not necesarily agree with all the statements above. I do agree however, that someone, somewhere in the industry needs to be honest with prospective undergraduates and that universities across the board should follow that lead and provide value for money courses that are appropriate to the industry.
My thoughts, some also in devil's advocate style:

Quote:1. If the industry requires graduates, why does it pay non-graduate wages?
Because the wages are accepted by the workforce. And before we start pointing fingers at desperate new-entrants, let's think about how this situation has arisen over the last 20-30 years. If you've been a professional archaeologist for any length of time, this happened on your watch. Or... possibly, a degree is just a good logical starting point for the selection process. Like Oxford entry, which now starts with getting straight As and weeding out the unsuitable from there. Maybe other good questions would be:
- Why has a well-educated workforce accepted non-graduate wages for so many years?
- Does industry really require graduates, or is this just a myth peddled by universities to drum up business?
- Could there be any other industry base-point measure of a person wishing to enter archaeology, apart from a degree?

Quote:2. If degrees in archaeology are needed for entry into the industry, why do they not prepare undergrads for that industry?
Because no degree - however vocational - will do that. A law degree doesn't make a fresh graduate competent in the court room. An IT degree won't make them able to run a corporate network. A business degree won't turn them into a good man manager or a captain of industry. An archaeology degree won't mean that someone can walk onto a site, pick up a mattock and do a good job. To achieve competence in a professional field, you need to work in that field and gain experience of it. Expecting a fresh graduate to be able to walk out of university and perform as a trained professional in any arena, is unrealistic. Another good question leading on from this:
- What does industry want from a degree course by way of preparation?

Quote:3. If degrees are not valued by the industry and, degrees offered by universities are inadequate for entry into the industry, why bother with the debt of acquiring a degree in the first place?
See Questions 1 and 2 - because the industry may not value them, but it does require them. Allegedly.
Morning Kel! I trust you are well and enjoying the blue skies for once!

There are a couple (and only a couple) of degrees where a year out to work in a professional environment is an integral component. Perhaps this is a good model for other academic institutions to follow? Additionally, the archaeology industry could (and arguably should) consider and implement a mentoring scheme for newbies. Arguably, a good unit intent upon the retention and nurturing of a competent workforce should provide training anyway? Commercial units could provide structured training for undergrads on site-either on commercial sites where feasible or, on the university excavations themselves. In my experience-that would be invaluable for an undergrad and arguably, would merit a reasonable increase in uni fees if there are to be any. After all, if undergrads choose to pursue a career in commercial archaeology, it follows that commercial training and standards would be fundamental to that ambition.

The pay structure over the last few decades has in my opinion been allowed to continue in the same vein simply because there is great demand for the work and a great many people seeking that work. Employment in the industry is so unstable and unreliable that workers have accepted the conditions because they have no other choices available to them. In part, the IfA must accept some responsibility for this in the way that they have undervalued archaeologists consistantly in order to provide units with the lowest `labour` costs possible. They have compounded this in the way that they consistantly fail to value archaeologists through their artificially constructed three-tier `class` system. Of course, the workforce should shoulder some responsibility for the current state of play but that said, promises made by certain Unions to support the cause have fallen way short.

If the industry does indeed require or desire degree-holding applicants, then something has to change. The quality and substance of undergraduate degrees could be tailored specifically to the target industry-preferably with considerable input from commercial concerns and, with some sort of recognition from the industry on the whole and the Institute itself-that the degree is of some value to them.:face-approve:
good questions -

BUT - a degree should be MORE than vocational training - there MUST be room for 'pure' academia (ie knowledge for knowledge sake) - archaeology is excellent degree for The General Enquirer....a broad science, history and cultural perspective is surely the main transferable aspect of archaeological degrees?....

Despite the renewed efforts of the Con-Dems to make education a purely industrial/commercial enterprise, the value of the humanities and 'pure' knowledge MUST be defended....
....tempting though it is, lets not turn degrees into half-baked attempts at vocational training at the expense of Genuine Education.

Does this justify the cost to the graduate? >>> clearly the whole Higher Education process is too costly > specific to archaeology...this is even worse!

Fundamentally...are there enough jobs?, if not then ANY degree in ANY sector will have dubious cost-benefit calculation....

I was lucky i guess - i did not have high fees - there was reasonable chance of job - there were fewer applicants - possession of a degree was not so important for work......

But most beneficial was having volunteer experience ( even prior to my degree )
You want to do archaeology? - find some and start doing can NEVER just do it for the money.

My advice to prospective and recent graduates?

OPPOSE this government - FIGHT cuts - RESIST greed

make this a country that is FIT to do archaeology in.
Good points Gnomey and admirable politics too! I agree-the educational and academic merit of an archaeology degree is not in question here. I would like to see a comprehensive approach to education that balances the dictat of academic endeavour with the realistic needs of the industry it targets. We seem to have a bit of a paradox here....field archaeologists by and large are expected to hold appropriate degrees and yet, are seen as `labour` and remunerated and valued as such. In an inflammatory way, one could argue that the old concept where land-owning gentry direct large workforces consisting of uneducated estate labourers really hasn`t gone away. The industry can`t have it both ways-either they want an educated and arguably `professionalised` workforce or they don`t.

I consider myself lucky too-it was hard enough when I started out but new graduates face even more competition for jobs and are being forced to pay even more for that insecurity than we did!

Just to quantify `value/worth` here... the average weekly wage (40 hours) of a labourer these days settles at ?260 which relates to ?6.50 an hour. An archaeologist working as a site assistant can expect ?296.09 a week. That equates to a degree being valued at ninety pence an hour more than a labourer.Before tax.

I`m not getting into a rant about poor pay here, I`m trying not to stray from the original question-is an archaeology degree worth it? Well, one could argue that a degree certainly helps if ambitions for advancement in the industry are held. For example, it`s not unusual for highly competent and professional archaeologists without degrees to be rejected in their applications for supervisory positions. Despite decades of experience and all the well-honed skills accumulated along the way, so in this sense-however unjustifiable and counter-intuitive, a degree does have some value. It is amazing that despite all this, the numbers of young people studying archaeology have continued unabated and I think that it is this-the motivation of newbies and the passion for the subject-that allows for the undervaluing of the workforce on the whole.
Using Troll?s suggested salary advantage of c 90 pence per hour and given the estimated minimum cost of a degree (5000 loan + 9000 tuition fee per annum x 3 years) you would have to work continuously in archaeolgy for 26.5 years to see a return on the cost of your education. If you added in the interest payments on your student loan at roughly 6.5 percent, I estimate you would need to work in excess of a feasible working lifetime to see a return on the basic cost of your ?degree?education. So clearly the answer is ?no?....however you try telling that to the youth of today, they just won?t believe yer....
With peace and consolation hath dismist, And calm of mind all passion spent...
Superb sir! A level of incisive eloquence I can only aspire to! Big Grin
However, no-one ever became a archaeologist because they wanted to get rich.......................though it would be nice to be secure in a job for a change
It seems to me that the unwritten rule is that a driving licence is worth more than a degree or any amount of experience
Belhaven is your friend
Must admit I do like the model of a four year degree that includes a year's placement in a commercial environment. Unfortunately that would result in thousands of undergrads effectively working for free in an industry that already isn't able to provide enough (meagre) paid employment to the masses of existing professional archaeologists. Not sure how it would work unless there was funding for MSC-type research projects, specifically for the purpose, funded someone. And TBH I'm still not convinced that would give a sufficiently commercial-type experience.

It's a shame that the NVQ seems to be falling flat and that one-year Foundation Certificates are being axed (where I am, anyway). From an employer's point of view, I can see that they need some way of judging the commitment and enthusiasm of someone seeking their first job, when they're too young to have a portfolio of commercial work to review.

Some sort of induction training on the job would be the next step - this is how it seemed to generally work in the IT/finance industries where I've previously worked. Very few companies would take on fresh graduates without bunging them through some sort of graduate programme. They were rarely let loose in the working environment without something like this and when they were, they shadowed people and were mentored for six months before being allocated a permanent role. However, that process would involve already having hired the person - a big ask in archaeology, when an employer can already call on an experienced workforce that has manpower to spare. Why spend six months getting a fresh graduate up to speed? Especially when short-term or fixed contracts are common and you can expect your "investment" to walk out of your door and possibly into the arms of a competitor.

Subject to being swayed by further discussion, I'm of the opinion that getting a degree in archaeology is worth it, simply because this is the de facto baseline measurement currently used by the industry (we think). It probably isn't a good one, but it is the only one until an alternative is found. And as the workforce is already over-subscribed, there isn't a driver for anyone to do that.

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