Damien Grant: So many newly-minted lawyers, so few job opportunities

Even with good grades, graduates from recognised schools struggle to find jobs. Photo / Thinkstock
Even with good grades, graduates from recognised schools struggle to find jobs. Photo / Thinkstock

It is graduation week. Lots of shiny faces, black gowns and big grins. For many, this will be the high point of their careers.

We produce too many graduates and many with degrees are ill-suited to their chosen profession. Law is the worst offender. My business is recruiting lawyers and we have been overwhelmed with applicants.

The process is tough. Those who start will get a precious commodity, experience, so the decision is important. Yet most of those we've interviewed do not have the temperament to succeed, and it saddens me to see young people swimming against the tide of their destiny. So why did they spend four years and incur an ugly debt studying for a career they will never have?

Even those with good grades from recognised schools struggle to find employment, yet the universities continue to pump them out; even AUT offers law, despite its graduates not getting shortlisted at most firms. An LLB from AUT is as useful as a chocolate hammer.

There is a lot of research, done mostly by underemployed PhDs, on the drivers and perils of academic inflation, yet more revealing are the universities' annual reports. The University of Auckland is a small city with 33,000 full-time equivalent students serviced by 5,000 staff. It costs $800 million to run and churns out 12,000 graduates a year.

That is $66,000 per degree. A commercial pilot's licence will cost not much more and requires the use of an aircraft and hundreds of hours of one-to-one tuition. How can it cost almost as much to sit in the back of a lecture theatre for three years? AUT is more economical but still commands $300 million a year for only 19,000 full-time equivalent students.

Those who work in these institutions need students to compete relentlessly for them. Student fees cover only one-third of the cost of an education, and half of that is never collected. Because they do not feel the real cost, students are easy targets for the predatory activities of sophisticated marketing programmes. AUT offers law because it suits its management to have a law programme. Those students who failed to get into Auckland University can enrol at AUT. Few of them will ever appear before a judge, but that is not why they are there.

Back when it was still a technical institute, I earned a business certificate from ATI; the institute is not without merit but it should not seduce the young with false promises to boost the vice chancellor's sense of importance.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- Herald on Sunday

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