Is Postgraduate Education Still Worth It During a Global Recession? |

Is Postgraduate Education Still Worth It During a Global Recession?

By Linda Mohamed

Updated Updated

The coronavirus pandemic has taken the global economy by storm, with some 24m people in the US and UK filing for unemployment in just over five weeks.

As the outbreak progresses, the upcoming months will be crucial to determine whether the business world will be able to get back on track quickly enough to safeguard millions of prospective jobs.

Unfortunately, experts say 2020 could become the worst hiring season for new graduates since the 2008 financial crisis.

A survey by graduate jobs website Prospects found that 28 percent of UK graduates have had job offers annulled or postponed to a later date, while research by the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) revealed that more than a quarter of companies had planned to hire fewer candidates during the outbreak.

The situation is similar in the US. In fact, an ongoing survey by the National Association of College and Employers (NACE) revealed that 20 percent of employers are still considering withdrawing offers for entry-level positions.

On the cusp of this new global economic hardship, current undergraduate and postgraduate students are reconsidering the value of higher education.

An online petition put forward by members of the Wharton MBA Classes of 2020 and 2021, asking the school to relieve “an appropriate amount” of tuition payments, has currently been signed by over 1,040 students – a number that increases daily.

The petition reads: “[…] we undersigned members of the Wharton MBA student body remain in prevalent agreement that virtual coursework, however well executed, does not provide the same educational value as the normal in-person classes that we expected when we enrolled.

“Much of the value of the Wharton educational experience comes from interacting with our outstanding faculty in person, engaging in lively discussions with our fellow classmates and learning from each other’s experiences, and hearing from and meeting renowned guest speakers. Virtual classroom technology has been impressive, yet it is still just unable to fully replicate that environment.”

Similar complaints about distance learning have been raised by student bodies at many other top business schools. Stanford’s online petition for lower tuition fees has been signed by 80 percent of the 2020 class, while new petitions are currently gaining traction at UCLA, NYU Stern, Columbia Business School, IE Business School, Sauder School of Business and Hult International Business School.

Aside from doubts over the quality of online education, b-school students across the globe are worried they won’t receive sufficient return of investment (ROI) upon graduation.

This is a legitimate concern. Considering that total MBA costs have increased in recent years, reaching and surpassing six figures at top programs such as Wharton’s and Stanford’s, the long-term impacts of student-debt in such an unstable job market might impact graduates well into the 2020s.

Nevertheless, amid the uncertainty of the state of global economies, many employers are still hiring and retaining their talent. According to NACE, as of May 1 2020 58.8 percent of US employers weren’t planning to revoke any full-time employment offers.

Positive figures apply to plans for the Class of 2021 too. In fact, 61.3 percent of surveyed employers plan to maintain the same level of recruitment for this class as for the Class of 2020, while 5.5 percent plan to increase hiring in the following months.

Technology has played a key role in this.

While face-to-face interviews are currently off-limits in many countries under lockdown, usage of video conferencing platforms such as Zoom has skyrocketed in the past two months, and 47.4 percent of employers plan to use virtual media to hire new graduates this fall.

It’s difficult to say how the job market will readapt once the economy starts to recover. Some industries, such as tech, appear to be thriving during the pandemic while others, such as hospitality and travel, continue to struggle.

The next few months will be crucial for b-school candidates and graduates to determine whether postgraduate education is still worth it. While there isn’t much they can do to prevent the economy from shrinking, analyzing current trends in the employment market and continuing to connect with businesses has never been more important to protect future careers.

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