2022 SU General Election Full Supplement

An education has its own value

By Kate Jacobson, April 9 2015

When Premier Jim Prentice released Alberta’s budget on March 26, he urged post-secondary schools to shed “low-value programs” to make up for this year’s 1.4 per cent budget cut. But there’s no such thing as a low-value program.

Talking about pursuing a post-secondary education only in terms of employability is dangerous because it creates generations of people who believe the only purpose of an education is to earn money. 

When Prentice talks about shedding low-value programs, he’s saying that he doesn’t believe there’s an intrinsic value to having knowledge about our past, other cultures or ancient languages.

There obviously isn’t a market demand for people to study ancient Irish poetry or obscure computer science theory. But knowledge has its own value. 

It’s important to understand our world for no other reason than the knowledge itself. Financial value cannot be the only way we measure the worthiness of knowledge. And saying that something is a luxury unless it has this value is short-sighted. 

But in times of financial hardship, these programs are often the first to go. So-called low-value programs like indigenous studies scramble to prove that their graduates are landing comfortable white-collar jobs. 

These are programs with low enrolment. But the reason students aren’t clamouring to study these subjects is because our expectations of what a university degree is has shifted from knowledge to employment. 

These low-value programs make the argument that employers want students with the critical thinking and writing skills that students in liberal arts programs often develop. 

This might be true, but engaging with that kind of argument is a mistake. We can’t talk to people like the only point of getting an arts degree is to develop skills that are palatable to the human resources department of an oil company. There’s a less convoluted way to do that, and it’s called a bachelors of commerce. 

When someone accuses programs or faculties at the university of being low value, we shouldn’t scramble to find a way to prove that whatever we’re studying will make loads of money. We should be honest with what the real point of these programs are — that we believe learning about these topics has an inherent value.

There’s no such thing as a low-value program because there’s no such thing as low-value knowledge. Employability is not the same as value, and our universities should note the difference. 

Hiring | Staff | Advertising | Contact | PDF version | Archive | Volunteer | SU

The Gauntlet