Is a BA for Bugger All?

By Orna Farrell

What is the value of studying for a Bachelor of Arts at university?

Despite being the butt of many jokes, and a recent article challenging the value of an Arts degree in the Irish context, a BA is not worth bugger all. There is great value in studying the Arts and Humanities, both in personal, economic and societal terms. There is strong evidence to suggest that the more educated you are the more you earn. We know from a number of studies that Arts graduates are less likely to be unemployed and tend to have healthier lifestyles.


The value of investing in an Arts degree is shown in raw economic terms in data compiled by Universities New Zealand, which found that a typical Arts graduate earns $1-1.3 million more over their working life than those without a degree; and that Arts graduates are earning above the national average salary and are less likely to be unemployed. The story down under contrasts with the claims Chris Fitzgerald makes in his recent think piece on the return on investment of university education.

How does the New Zealand situation compare to Ireland? In Ireland, graduates earn 63% more than those with a leaving certificate, according to the OECD Ireland-Education at a Glance 2016 report. The average starting salary for Irish Arts graduates is €21,000-25,000; this figure compares favourably to the average salary starting for Irish graduates in all disciplines of €21,000-29,000 in 2015 compiled by the HEA in the report What do Graduates Do?

MacsSo, there are clear economic benefits to having a BA, but there are also personal and societal benefits, these are evident in the latest American Education Pays 2016 report, which found that higher education is associated with healthier lifestyles and that graduates are more active citizens.

Are we preparing BA graduates for a career in McDonalds?

The short answer is no! Arts graduates work in a wide variety of employment sectors. To counter Fitzgerald’s claim they perform many jobs that society needs! Despite popular misconceptions many employers report they value the flexibility and broad knowledge of BA graduates, especially as their degree programmes encourage independence, critical thinking and a reflective approach to learning which is applicable to a wide range of jobs. In Ireland, the key employment sectors for Arts & Humanities graduates in 2015 were business, finance, insurance, distribution, and the public service. (HEA, 2017). No mention of McDonalds here or jobs that society doesn’t need!

You can read more of this think piece and learn about the emergence of digital humanities and online study options through DCU Connected on Orna Farrell’s Linkedin website.