That was the question posed by ITV’s Tonight programme, last Thursday featuring our Company Founder, James Uffindell on the careers panel. The programme raised interesting questions, and gave good tips as to what you should be doing whilst you are at university to increase your chances of securing a good job afterwards and gives advice to applicants considering different types of degree. I think our generation is at a crossroads at the moment: since New Labour increased the number of people going to university and tuition fees started rising, the financial benefits of getting a degree have been diminished.
A generation ago, students actually received grants to go to university – I think my dad spent the money on a new car – and because there were relatively few graduates, everyone with a degree was almost guaranteed a graduate job with a good salary. Fast-forward 30 years and students are being asked to pay up to £9000 per annum only to enter into a job market saturated with skilled graduates, meaning that competition for those well paid jobs is fierce. Statistics from last year revealed that almost 10% of graduates were unemployed, a frightening figure already, without the additional information that that doesn’t account for underemployed graduates or degree-holders not in graduate entry jobs. It’s very easy to lose hope when statistics suggest that certain degrees will barely pay from themselves over the course of a life-time. Why get into £27, 000’s worth of debt for an Arts degree when you may only increase your earnings over a life time by £34,000? It’s pretty sobering stuff for applicants.
But can the value of a degree be judged solely on how much it will enhance your earning capabilities in later years? There are many jobs that you can’t do without a degree, such as nursing and teaching, and many more for which you need a degree just to get a chance at being employed in the industry, such as journalism and advertising. Although some of these careers are not as well paid as those in the business or the financial sector (where some key figures have risen to the top without having gone on to higher education – Alan Sugar, Richard Branson, we mean you), they are still extremely well sort after by talented graduates because of the job satisfaction that they provide.
Another crucial factor to consider is that graduates tend to have more job security than non-graduates because they have a stronger skills set and keep developing their skills over the course of their career – another appealing factor for a graduate. It seems therefore that earnings are not the sole determiner of graduate success. And what is the value of a degree for our society? Increasingly, education, and higher education in particular, is seen as private pursuit. However, politicians and sociologists both argue that education is extremely beneficial to society. Education awakens social consciousness and makes life seem more meaningful. The result is harder working, more motivated and more co-operative people who by and large make society more productive, less dangerous and generally a nicer place to be. Everyone’s a winner!
It seems that your earnings over a lifetime are not a sufficient measure of the value of a degree – the return on a financial investment perhaps, but not an accurate reflection of ‘value’. Instead there are many other factors to take into account– not least the satisfaction of further learning. The good news is that if you are aiming for top institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge, it is likely that the degree you obtain in four or five years’ time will come from a prestigious university, widely respected by employers and it will prove to be a sound investment for the future. Ultimately, however, the questions you need to ask yourself if you are considering going to university are why you want to do a degree and how valuable will it be to you? If you’re still unsure about what the tuition fees increase means to you, it’s worth speaking to your careers counsellor at school. Alternatively, you can give us a call to talk through your options. We look forward to hearing from you.