There has long been an assumption that many museum jobs are graduate jobs, suitable only for those who hold bachelor’s degrees. It is obvious that studying at university is a wonderful opportunity to develop skills such as research, analysis, source criticism and citation and specialist knowledge in a more robust way than A Levels, Highers, or other school-leaving qualifications. Many of these skills can indeed be very useful for certain museum roles, and so it is not altogether unsurprising that degree requirements and museum job specifications have had a long association. This has meant that demands for degrees have sometimes become a ‘default’ requirement, and this can be problematic.
Undergraduate degrees in the UK are expensive. As of 2018, annual tuition fees for a full-time course can be as high as £9250. Given that many British students chose to study away from their family homes, there also significant costs related to living expenses. While student loans are widely available, many graduates risk leaving their courses with debts of between £35,000 – £40,000. 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.
Before adding an undergraduate degree to a job specification as an essential requirement, Fair Museum Jobs believes that employers should seriously question whether that level of education is strictly necessary for the role in question. Where such requirements are deemed necessary, we recommend that candidates without degrees should be free to demonstrate that they have equivalent skills and experience gained from outside a traditional university setting.
With degrees so difficult and expensive to obtain, Fair Museum Jobs believes that exceptional candidates should not necessarily be excluded from roles for the sake of qualifications. For the museums sector to thrive, the sector workforce needs to be as diverse as the society it serves. We believe that there should be many routes into the sector, beyond the narrow and traditional ones that sees undergraduate degrees as an essential prerequisite.