It’s Open Day season at universities across Australia. Prospective students are pondering whether it’s worth doing a degree or not – and in particular, whether it will increase their chances of gaining employment.
Former Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner argued in 2011 that “a very substantial proportion of Australians feel at best ambivalent about education and many people have a chip on their shoulder about it”.
But, according to a Georgetown University study of graduates in the United States, people with bachelor’s degrees earn 84% more over a lifetime than high school graduates.
Typically, those in the know will tell you that getting a degree won’t help you get a job in the screen industries. The conventional wisdom is that the way in is through personal contacts rather than formal qualifications. But is that correct – or just an industry myth?
There is evidence that a degree can help you in the screen industries.
A survey of the Victorian audiovisual industries I published in 2012 discovered a surprising result – people with a degree were more often in work than those without one. For my investigation Women in the Victorian Film, Television and Related Industries, I surveyed 135 people working in Victoria’s screen industries. The results suggested that those with a degree were not only more likely to be in full-time work. They were also more optimistic and more likely to have sought government funding for their projects within the past five years.
These results indicate that undertaking a degree has some significant benefits.
Those surveyed who had not undertaken formal training were more likely to entertain a negative outlook and believe that a lack of opportunities was preventing them from gaining work – perhaps suggesting a lack of adaptability, or recognition of transferable skills. Formal training instills in graduates the need to be flexible and adaptable, and the ability to become lifelong learners, developing and increasing their skill sets as they gain experience.
Another finding of my research which is of significant interest to the question of whether a degree is important to working in the screen industry was that those surveyed often worked within the education sector themselves as academics or teachers. In fact after writing, directing and producing, teaching was the next most common source of employment for my respondents (those working in film and television industries).
And of course, in order to work as an academic, you need a tertiary qualification. Indeed, from 2015, the Australian Quality Framework (AQF) has set a benchmark for academics that they should have a qualification one level higher than those they teach.
I also found that where respondents first began working tended to be the one in which they remained to build a career. So it is important to carefully consider whether you want to work in television or film, and where, before undertaking any unpaid internships or voluntary work.
That’s because the area you start in is likely to be the area where you continue. My research showed a significant pathway into the audiovisual industries via some form of unpaid labour – 25% of women surveyed and 40% of men began their careers that way.
These findings confirm other research in the industry. A March 2104 survey based on 382 responses conducted by industry online publication Screen Hub, found that 30% of the industry had a postgraduate degree and 45% had a graduate degree – a lot higher than the 17% in the general population and 37% in the arts industries.
This indicates that the industry itself is full of tertiary qualified people, and therefore, to be competitive in the future, a degree may be important for individuals to be competitive.
So perhaps there is a point to getting a degree in media if you want to work in the film or television industries. A degree can take a long time to achieve, at a significant cost, and doesn’t necessarily open the doors to paid employment, but according to my research, it will lead to better employment opportunities in the long term.