As we encroach gradually on what we hope to be the light at the end of the tunnel, students naturally start to question the implications of all the obstacles we overcame. The Covid-19 lockdown drove the UK into one of the deepest recessions in Europe. But what does this all mean for students? How is this going to impact us? – In this article we’re going to attempt to answer the question about whether or not employers will discriminate against students who earned their degree during the coronavirus pandemic. We got in touch with the careers department of a prominent Russell Group university for their thoughts.
It’s undisputable at this point that there will be sever implications of the pandemic. Particularly from an economic perspective. A survey, from the National Union of Students, shows 81% of students are worried about their future job prospects. On the other hand, 95% are concerned about the impact of Covid-19 on the economy. This is clearly a source of anxiety for students, and rightly so. Nevertheless, this article’s intention isn’t to go through the effects of coronavirus on the economy, or even on students. It is simply to answer the question of if online-learning and online-exams have put us in an unfavourable position in the job-market.
Why would employers even care?
If you were in the process of earning a degree throughout the pandemic, you likely went through a long process of online-lectures, exams, seminars and the whole lot. There’s plenty of reasons why employers might favour a student who earned their degree in a typical way compared to one who earned it predominantly online. Whether they actually will is a different story.
The argument is that employers may potentially lack the certainty and confidence in the level of ability you (the applicant) really have, having earned your degree online. But is this fair? Does an online degree mean you’re any less deserving or less-skilled? We’ll go through the arguments on both sides.
Can employers even do that?
“Surely employers wouldn’t discriminate based on a condition that wasn’t even in our hands?” Well, it’s not that clear. Historically, employers have discriminated against potential employees in regards to a myriad of factors that aren’t in control of the candidates. Why is this any different?
Employers pick out a candidate among applicants for various reasons. One of those, as we all know, is their degree. If for whatever reason, an employer deems someone’s degree (perhaps that was predominantly earned online) weaker than another person’s, (perhaps that was earned in the typical way) then they have the full right to use that as a determinant of who gets the job.
Additionally, a further reason why this might indeed be the case is that the number of degree-holders in the UK is at an all-time high. Official figures reveal that over 50% of young people are attending university. The fact that so many job applicants now hold degrees means employers have the ability to discriminate against candidates down to the smallest of factors.
Quality of Education
The majority of students will argue without a doubt that the quality of education throughout the pandemic has been drastically worse. Even if the universities argue otherwise, we can all at least agree that it’s been different. Depending on who you are, it might’ve been different in a good way, or perhaps a bad way.
Looking at it from an optimistic standpoint, you could argue that online learning has given students the ability to do their work in their own time, and hence maximise their productivity. From my personal perspective, I’m definitely grateful that I have the option to cram all my week’s work into 3 or 4 days so I can have the weekend off if I really want to. I’d also argue the quality of my notes are at a much higher standard compared to during in person-lectures. This is largely due to the fact that I can just pause the lecturer whenever I want to stop and take notes. Sure, you could always re-watch the lecture online after having watched it in-person to accomplish this, but it takes that much more time for arguably no added benefit.
On the other hand, there’s undoubtedly been some negative impacts of online-learning on the quality of university education. For starters, having lectures online has vastly reduced the level of interactivity. This applies even more so to seminars. The sole reason for seminars is to add an avenue for students to interact with tutors, as well as other students. As much as lecturers try to accomplish this with break-out rooms and online group projects, it’s not even remotely the same. This defeats the purpose of seminars entirely. You could also argue that as a result of all this, teaching is much less personalised than it once was. For a lot of people, online-learning makes it incredibly difficult to manage your time effectively. If you’re looking for ways to be more productive at home, make sure to check out our article on how to spend your time in a more productive and useful way.
We also can’t forget about the fact that most students have limited access to university resources. This issue is exemplified in degrees that emphasise a large amount of hands-on activities, like workshops, labs, etc.
So, having said all this, it’s clear that to a large number of people (potentially even employers), that the quality of education throughout the pandemic has undoubtedly been inferior. As a result of this, it’s plausible that employers may choose to employ those who received a typical degree over a partly-online degree.
But do employers really care about such things?
This is another reason that is often brought up. If you earned your degree during the covid-19 pandemic, you more than likely took your exams online. There’s a bit more contrasting opinions on online-exams compared to the previous point. Some may tell you that they present a completely different challenge and require an alternative skill-set. Others would tell you that having access to all your course material for 24 hours during your exam makes them incredibly easy. Personally I think this also varies depending on your course. – Doing a maths exam with a 24-hour time limit and access to your material is completely different to an essay-based exam.
It’s up to you what your opinion is, but as for employers, it’s difficult to say. The trouble here is that, even now among friends, you often find the consensus is that performing well in online exams isn’t really indicative of your ability. If 10 of the people on your course are sat together in a zoom-call working through the answers together, have they really earned their grade? Again, that’s up to you to decide, but if students themselves think this way, why wouldn’t employers? It’s at least plausible to admit that employers may indeed have a preference over students who participated in in-person exams, and have certainty and confidence in their ability to perform.
Could this actually happen though?
In reality, there’s a lot of reasons why this might not actually happen.
The time argument
First and foremost, it seems the worst of the pandemic is slowly coming to an end. This means that at maximum the effects of covid-19 on university education will hopefully only last a year or slightly more. This gives employers confidence that students studying at this time indeed participated in regular study, and didn’t earn their degree entirely online. If anything, with the way things are going, it looks like no matter what stage you were in your study, there is no case in which the majority of your degree would’ve been online. Personally I think this is a big factor in why we probably won’t see employers avoiding students who obtained their degree during the pandemic.
The quality of education is still pretty good
The quality of education may be inferior, but it’s definitely not rubbish. Prominent institutions and universities would never allow the reputation of their degree to be tarnished. It’s not like universities are just handing out degrees now that everything is online. Despite the online-learning, students are still managing to do almost everything they once could. As specified earlier, this definitely isn’t the case for all degrees, and perhaps those that can’t will face the biggest burden in this aspect, especially when it comes to looking for a job. For this reason, it’s likely employers won’t really distinguish between the quality of a (partly) online vs in-person degree.
Employers don’t really care
It can be argued that employers honestly don’t really care. The value of the specifics of a degree are highly overstated, and often only apply to very specific fields. In reality, employers care about various other factors over accreditations. These are things like social skills, ability to learn, and all the other things we always hear about. Therefore, it’s more than likely that this won’t really be a big deal for students.
What do the experts say?
The answer to this very complicated question will obviously vary depending on who you ask. In this article, we’ve outline arguments for both reasons why this might be the case, but also reasons why it might not be. We haven’t really given you an answer, but that’s because we aren’t qualified to. – Because of this, we decided to get in touch with the ‘University of York Careers Information Team‘ and ask them to give us a response to this question. Here’s what they had to say:
We in Careers and Placements have no evidence to suggest employers will treat students/graduates of 2020 and 2021 any differently than other years’ cohorts. Employers will be highly aware of the obstacles students have faced during the pandemic and will, presumably, take this into account.
Many students have demonstrated sought-after skills and qualities during this year – resilience, initiative and creativity (in finding other opportunities and developing their skills and learning during lockdown).
Many employers have adapted their vacancies (particularly with virtual internships and remote working) and their recruitment processes (attending virtual careers fairs, conducting virtual assessment centres). Most large graduate recruiters already used some online methods (eg online applications) and there is a suggestion that some may continue with the newer adaptations they’ve introduced as a result of the pandemic.
For those in their middle or final years, there are still ways to develop their skills and gain experience.University of York Careers Information Team
When it comes down to it, there isn’t really a right or wrong answer. It’s easy to see potential outcomes on both sides. In the end, the actual outcome will be determined by whether or not these degrees will actually be seen as weaker. That’s for you to decide.
In reality, it’s likely the answer to this question will apply differently on an industry by industry basis. For corporate lines of work that require rigorous assessments and interviews, they probably won’t care at all. Alternatively, in lines of work that don’t, perhaps they will. Regardless of whether or not employers will or won’t discriminate, the best thing to do is always give yourself an advantage over others. Like any other time in history when the job-market isn’t so appealing, experts are predicting an uptake in postgraduate courses over the next few years. If you find yourself struggling as a result of coronavirus, pursuing further education is always a good option.
Alternatively, especially during current times, pursuing online education is a great way to make yourself more employable. You can find plenty of online courses that relate to your degree (or don’t) that could give you an edge over other applicants. You can get a free 14 days of premium on skillshare that gives you access to thousands of courses on various topics to determine whether or not they’re helpful to you!
The Real Issue
In reality, the real issue to consider isn’t really such a trivial question such as whether employers will avoid students who earned their degree during covid-19. The real issue is how coronavirus has and will continue to impact the economy and what this will mean for students graduating in the coming months and years. But that’s a question for another article.
Once could also argue that university students aren’t the main students suffering here. Instead, young primary school children are the ones facing the real issues. Children at this age are learning basic and necessary skills that stay with them for life, like reading, writing and basic arithmetic. The capacity for such young children to sit in-front of a screen learning for hours on end is very low. This is especially the case when they don’t have parents at home who can keep them attentive.