The relationship between Museum Studies master’s degrees and employment in the museums sector has long been a controversial one. Throughout the 2000s, it was routine to see the requirement for such qualifications marked as essential on job specifications for many museum roles.
As the cost of university education continues to grow in the United Kingdom, and as museums become increasingly aware about the problems caused by a lack of sector workforce diversity, the trend has been for Museum Studies qualifications to become a less prominent feature of selection criteria. Yet still there are cases of job adverts which make it quite clear if a candidate doesn’t have a Museum Studies MA, they will not be considered for the role.
At Fair Museum Jobs, we believe that this is something which needs to change. We believe that requirements for postgraduate qualifications should never be set as criteria – either essential or desirable – without equivalent skills, knowledge or experience being explicitly stated as an acceptable alternative.
No one can seriously doubt the value of studying museums and heritage within an academic context. Museum are complex and diverse entities with long and interesting histories, and they warrant dedicated study and enquiry. Equally, no one can doubt that the graduates of such programmes are passionate and dedicated, and just the sort of people that museums need. It must also be acknowledged that many will have made serious sacrifices to get enrolled onto such programmes.
Yet to rely upon this pool of graduates alone to fill museum vacancies is not without significant problems. Postgraduate programmes are very expensive, and not everyone can afford them. The University of Leicester charge £7,835 for their MA, while UCL are after £10,410 on top of a non-refundable £75 application fee. Not everyone will have the life circumstance to permit study, even on a part-time programme. Some need to work full-time in paid employment, some will have family commitments, some will have caring responsibilities, and some will have disabilities that make learning far more challenging than for others.
Then there is the fact that university is not the only place to learn the skills and gain the knowledge necessary to successfully pursue a successful career in museums. Practical, on-the-job experience can be just as valuable. That can be gained through a whole range of places and situations, whether through paid or voluntary experience within the sector, through traineeships or apprenticeships, or through transferable skills developed outside of museums.
To require postgraduate qualifications without accepting equivalent experience is unfair, and it is exclusory. More than that, it runs a real risk of damaging the sector by filling job vacancies with people – however able – with the same sorts of experience and background. We need people who don’t fit the mould, and who can bring bold and brave fresh-thinking into museums. We need a sector workforce which is as diverse as the nation’s society, so that museums can speak to, for and from everyone. There must be many routes into the sector, and not just one.
At Fair Museum Jobs, we will challenge recruitment practices which insist on the ‘one route’ model, and we will celebrate and champion practices that seek to make the sector a more inclusive place. We warmly invite you to join us on our mission. Our movement is, like we aspire our sector workforce to be, open to everyone.