As May draws to a close, it’s a scary thought that I’ll be out of a job in 3 months time. My graduate trainee year so far has been an incredible experience that has given me so many professional skills and got me really buzzing for a future career in libraries. So the next step is a masters degree in library and information science…right?
That’s the plan, in fact that’s on the job specification for most graduate trainee job posts – the intention to study for a postgraduate qualification in librarianship. A standard route into the career is by following this plan: graduate trainee year…masters…first professional post and Bob’s your uncle, you’re a librarian! But with some LIS Masters fees rising dramatically in the last year, I find myself asking whether this is still a realistic career path for most people?
When I started applying for library school before Christmas, I (like a completely sane person with absolutely no predilection for Excel whatsoever) created a spreadsheet comparing fees. I’ve now updated this to include most 2012/13 fees for CILIP accredited LIS courses. Please bear in mind this is for guidance only and by no means can I claim it to be exhaustive or even 100% accurate. The figures are the fees for UK students listed on the universities own webpages and I’ve just brought them together with a terrible colour scheme.
What’s interesting is the disparity in costs that some universtities are charging. Courses range from around £4,000 right up to £9,000 for the full-time year, and while some fees have almost doubled since last 2011/12, others have not changed. Why is this? Am I meant to infer that by paying more, I’ll get a better standard of masters? Over the last year I’ve talked to a range of professionals that all emphasised that all that matters is the professional qualification, not where you got it from and how, and every course has its pros and cons.
With fees rising to up to nine grand, this puts the masters way out of the grasp of a lot of people. Funding has been slashed in most cases and instances of employers sponsoring young professionals through qualifying are much rarer than they used to be. Career Development Loans go up to £10,000 (and paying that back would be fairly crippling) but say if I wanted to stay in London to study next year, living in my fairly cheap little room in zone 3, it would cost me around £20,000 for tuition and living expenses. And that’s a pretty conservative estimate. Even studying with a part-time job puts this out of my reach.
I haven’t quite worked out what I’m going to do next year, but a Masters course is beginning to feel like a very expensive hoop to jump through if I want to proceed with my career. I’ve met a number of other graduate trainees over the last 9 months and out of them, only a handful are going to library school next year. Others have already secured plans on different career paths or are putting the Masters off for a few years.
Whilst in some ways I can see why this is might not be a terrible thing – during a recession when jobs are few and far between and the number of applicants for each vacancy is astronomical, the last thing that’s needed is getting a whole bunch of new professionals qualified and fighting for those same jobs. But where does it stop? The problem with fee rises is that once they’re up, they’re not coming down. Are we looking at a future of librarianship where many have been put off becoming professionally qualified and graduate trainees leave the sector because there’s nowhere for them to go?
The great thing about LIS courses is many universities have made a real effort to accomodate all kinds of students by offering part-time and distance learning options. These will almost certainly be what I end up doing (hopefully) and I think it’s great for a student doing a vocational qualification to study and work simultaneously. In my opinion, the future of the postgraduate qualification is going to be just that, a huge drop in the number of full-time students but hopefully those who are really committed to librarianship, with the help of flexible and understanding university courses, can find a way to make it work for them.