Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 13th 2014 Contents APRIL 13 • 2014 www.guardian.co.tt SUNDAY BUSINESS GUARDIAN
NEWS | SBG5
Their stories are as different as their fields
of study. Just as different are the outcomes.
By far, Melina seems to have had the hardest
In her late forties, she has found herself
chronically under or unemployed since return-
ing to Trinidad 13 years ago. Her doctorate did
not open the doors she thought it would. She
thinks, in fact, that her foreign doctorate and
employment experience actually work against
her, intimidating the people who have inter-
viewed her for jobs.
She sees T&T as a society governed by
cliques, where contacts are necessary to get
even the smallest jobs. For money, she rents
her car out. Sometimes, she also makes loans
out of her savings and charges interest on the
principal. She gets by, living with family.
Melina does not regret the experiences as
a tertiary student but, throughout the interview,
seemed deeply disappointed that she was not
able to use her education to impact the country
more positively. And even though she has
made her peace with her current circum-
stances, this was not what she thought her
life would be when she started university 25
"I feel as though I ve set myself apart to
the point where I cannot relate to other people
and I feel like my exposures and my travels,
programmes that I ve done, the brain that is
created, makes me so much alienated from
the general population its painful."
Rajesh is a friend she brings along. In his
mid-thirties, he shares that he has been able
to find lucrative work since getting his Char-
tered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS)
certificate. It becomes clearer why as he
explains. Rajesh was able to get work experience
in procurement and, liking the field, decided
to get a recognised industry qualification. His
time on the job and qualification make Rajesh
an in-demand commodity in an economy
where people with procurement knowledge
are increasingly necessary. He thinks Melina s
advanced degrees hinder her as he remarks
there are only so many vacancies where PhDs
Neither of them know Patricia. Also in her
mid-thirties, Patricia did her undergraduate
degree in biology and her MPhil in Marine
Biology at UWI Mona. Her dream was to work
in a lab. She able to get work at one environ-
mental company, but was downsized as the
recession deepened in 2009. Since then, she
has worked as an administrative assistant at
an engineering outfit and an accounting firm.
Her latest job is radio news production. She
appears resigned to making the less than
$6,000 a month salary, grateful that, at least,
she has a job. Even though it did not pay off
financially, she definitely thinks her time at
university was worth it because "learning how
to think and learning how to think for yourself
And then there is Sally, who inexplicable
turned her back on a potentially lucrative
career in law. She realised something was
wrong during the second year of her degree,
but completed the programme anyway since
she was so far along. A job at a prominent
law firm revealed how wrong a fit the field
"I had joined the firm thinking I would help
people, work with people who could not afford
a lawyer. But at the firm they did the exact
opposite. My job was to run down people who
owed the firm money. People would come to
the office and cry."
She says her mother s death was an awak-
ening, forcing her to realise that life was too
short to be spent doing something she hated.
An inheritance would give her the space to
explore what truly made her happy. She started
writing ad copy, then moved on to television
production and finally found her niche in pho-
tography, where she now makes a comfortable
The Sunday BG put the graduates circum-
stances to economists and lecturers, Dr Roger
Hosein, Dr Lester Henry and Hadyn Blades.
They agreed on some points, disagreed on
others, but generally thought a university edu-
cation was still a sound long-term investment
for both individuals and societies.
Dr Hosein said: "Let us assume that the
random person with five CXC subjects obtains
a job at a salary of $6,000 a month, which
cumulatively after eight years results in gross
earnings of $576, 000.
"If the same student were to attend uni-
versity for three years and postpones income
for those three years, but thereafter having
attained a degree earns $10,000 a month or
$600,000 after five years, then the long run
gains for the university graduate outweighs
the short term sacrifice of income."
Attempts were made to get information
which would outline a breakdown of a uni-
versity graduate s earning potential at the start
of work, over a 10 to 15 year-period. Checks
were made with the University of the West
Indies, the Ministry of Science, Technology
and Tertiary Education and the Central Sta-
tistical Office. While these organisations did
have some figures on how many graduates
were leaving institutions with a breakdown
of degrees by subject area, there was little
analysis of individuals earning potential by
subject area either fresh out of school or over
any period of time.
Attempts by the Sunday BG to conduct
informal research on incomes earned by grad-
uates appear to bear out Dr Hosein s illustra-
Some 20 graduates were broken into the
categories of natural sciences (biology, chem-
istry, physics), medical sciences, engineering,
social science (sociology, psychology etc),
humanities/arts and business (management,
administration, marketing, HR etc) and law.
It was found that, on average, the sciences
and engineering grads had the highest initial
earning potential, although this levelled off
over a 10- to 15-year period.
Business and law graduates appear overall
to have the greatest income earning potential
over time, even though their initial incomes
were lower than science and engineering degree
holders. Graduates with social science and
humanities qualifications appeared least likely
to find work in their fields and, overall, they
also seemed to earn the least over time.
However, even if they were absorbed into
the teaching service and public sector at large,
their initial incomes and earning over time
still outstripped their colleagues who did not
have degrees. (See table)
When asked why having an advanced degree
seemed not to help Melina for example, Dr
Henry, who is also an Opposition Senator, was
"First to begin, people here are not going
to kneel before you because you have a masters
or a doctorate."
He advised that people with advanced qual-
ifications have to be persistent in a society
that expects them to "pay their dues." He also
explained that the higher up the educational
ladder one goes, the less likely it was to translate
into a larger pay check.
He and Dr Hosein also see the spill-over
effects to society of an increase in university
students fuelled by the GATE programme as
being positive in the long run.
"People will generally be better behaved,"
says Dr Henry.
Several foreign studies come to the conclu-
sion that university graduates are less of a
drain on a country s resources as they are less
likely to access social services for the needy.
They are also less likely to commit crimes or
engage in other disruptive behaviour. They
are also more likely to contribute in taxes over
a lifetime because of their higher incomes.
Their presence, in general, indicates a higher
standard of living and empowers societies with
the ability to transform themselves through
their earned skills.
Dr Hosein credits UWI as being integral in
this country s and the region s development
and cannot see any major gains happening in
the region without UWI graduates.
Even though he recognises the long-term
benefits of tertiary education, Hadyn Blades,
says these benefits are not automatic.
"A tertiary education is really all about what
you do with it."
Blades believes that a degree is supposed
to enable the holder to be a better thinker, a
"disruptor" of the status quo. He thinks too
many people are signing up for degrees because
it will augment their resumes and job prospects.
Instead, he says, "they should have greater
force and deeper understanding of what is
required to improve the quality of life."
He doesn t believe we have arrived at this
point yet and believes until individuals begin
to show a willingness to "think, create, discern
and disrupt, society will not be able to expe-
rience the true transformative power of a ter-
A GOOD INVESTMENT
From Page SBG4
Graduate Area of Study
Public Sector Private Sector Public Sector Private Sector
(10-15 years) (10-15 years)
Upwards of $35,000
$30-upwards of $100,000
$40 - upwards of $100,000
The figure quoted represent monthly salaries
Sectors where an estimation of salaries could not be obtained were left blank
Estimations were made with the assistance of professionals in the respective fields
Is it worth it?
It seems even with larger numbers of peo-
ple pursuing degrees, a tertiary education re-
mains a good long-term bet.
• It still increases income over time
• It still is a good investment for society, but
programmes like GATE have to be optimised
and re-worked so that they produce graduates
who fill the required skills needs of the coun-
• A tertiary education continues to be worth
it if you are pursuing an "in demand" field like
our graduate Rajesh
• A tertiary education also seems to pay off
as graduates like Melina and Patricia think
they have gained valuable life experiences
through their time at university, even if it has
not been financially lucrative.
• A tertiary education may be worth it, even
if it is not used, since it gives the holder the
ability to more clearly assess his/her situation,
like our law graduate Sally, who on realising
that legal work was not for her, made the shift
These, of course, are the results of an infor-
mal study into university education versus the
pursuing alternatives debate in our own local
context. It is a debate which continues to rage
internationally and one that will become more
pertinent as sophisticated analysis is under-
taken in our tertiary environment.
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