To those college graduates considering studying for a master’s degree to enhance their competitiveness in the job market, many experts are now saying they should refrain from making a hasty decision.
Last month, an online survey by 104 Job Bank (104人力銀行) and the Chinese-language Global Views Monthly magazine found that most employers do not attach particular importance to a master’s degree when looking to employ new staff, with 74.2 percent of respondents saying they would not give preferential treatment to jobseekers with a master’s degree.
That could be a major surprise to college graduates and their parents.
The latest data shows that only 40 percent of college graduates in Taiwan choose to directly enter the labor market. Most of the remaining 60 percent opt to continue their studies in the form of a master’s degree or doctoral degree, said a deputy director at the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS), citing data released by the Ministry of Education.
The DGBAS’ data also showed that graduates with a master’s or doctoral degree accounted for 20 percent of overall college or higher level graduates in the academic year 2009-2010, the number of -individuals with a master’s degree having grown by a factor of 2.4 over the last decade.
The data indicates that a large number of college graduates hope to postpone looking for work because they consider themselves insufficiently competitive in the current job market, hoping a higher degree will help them find a better position.
However, staffing agencies caution against this way of thinking.
“For entry-level jobs open to first-time jobseekers, it makes no difference to the company if they hire a college graduate or someone with a master’s degree, because these positions tend to not immediately require professional skills that much,” said Terence Liu (劉玿廷), country manager of ManpowerGroup Taiwan, part of a major global recruitment company.
Elaine Yang (楊怡倫), a director at Adecco Personnel Co Ltd in Taiwan, the world’s largest employment services group, echoed Liu’s view.
Yang also said that, in most industries, having a master’s degree today helps jobseekers much less than five to 10 years ago.
“In the past, when many companies were still in the early stages of development, they felt hiring more employees with a master’s degree would help them,” Yang said. “But today many are looking to hire college graduates at relatively lower salary levels, to cut labor costs amid a slowing economy.”
However, both Liu and Yang said the situation varied from industry to industry, with research and development positions in the technology sector having the highest demand for first-time jobseekers with a master’s degree.
This situation was reflected in the 104 Job Bank survey, which showed that jobseekers with a master’s degree in engineering and science-related fields are the most highly valued in the job market. Those in information, engineering and computer departments topped the list, earning NT$12,978 (US$428) more per month than college graduates.
However, the immediate benefits gained by jobseekers with a master’s degree remained limited in other industries, it said.
Cheng Chih-yu (成之約), a professor at National Chengchi University’s Graduate Institute of Labor Research, said this does not mean that a master’s degree is totally unhelpful, but that most of the financial reward does not appear until higher level management positions, as opposed to entry-level jobs.
In other words, college graduates could benefit from entering the job market in an entry-level position for a few years, because that might better enable them to determine their real interests and career goals. Such work would also make it clear what sort of skills were necessary to progress further in a company.
“At that point it makes more sense to go back to school for a higher degree, because the degree is guaranteed to bring work benefits with it in the future,” Cheng said.
However, the government also needs to better control the number of colleges and college-level or higher-level students, to prevent oversupply and creating a population of unemployed master’s degree holders, said Hsin Ping-lung (辛炳隆), an associate professor at National Taiwan University’s Graduate Institute of National Development.
“We have too many college students, so college graduates are not competitive and almost certain to pursue a higher degree,” Hsin said. “However, there are too many colleges in Taiwan right now, and many of them offer indifferent courses and sub-standard teaching.”
“The government needs to recognize that some of these colleges are surplus to requirements and that students graduating with qualifications from such sub-par institutions are going to find it extremely difficult to find gainful employment,” he added.
Hsin said this before the government recently proposed encouraging companies to hire doctoral students by offering subsidies worth almost half their salaries. This proposal is evidence of the very real problems Hsin identified in the employment market for graduate students and requires immediate government action.
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