As university fees become increasingly expensive, the financial advantages of studying for a degree have come under scrutiny. Has the growth in student numbers over recent years also lowered the status of degrees among employers? Recently, both the government and employers have increased investment in apprenticeships, including advanced and higher apprenticeships that can lead to excellent jobs. Nonetheless, graduates are rarely unemployed and frequently well-paid gaining qualifications that are highly valued by major employers. Ashbourne Independent Sixth Form College offers two year, 18 month and a one-year intensive A Level courses, providing a wide range of subject choices.
University Qualifications under Scrutiny
As university fees become increasingly expensive, the financial advantages of studying for a degree have come under close scrutiny.
Does it really make sense to pay up to £9000 a year in fees, even if the debt incurred does not have to be paid until later, when the graduate is liable to pay 9% of annual income over £21,000? Moreover, has the dramatic growth in student numbers over recent years, which created the necessity for raising fees, also lowered the status of degrees among employers? In short, is it really worth it?
It is undeniable that graduates earn more than non-graduates. Recent surveys have suggested that on average the differential in wages over a working life is well over £100,000, net of tax, even taking into account the costs of study in fees and lost wages.
No Guarantee of Comfort and Security
University clearly does not guarantee comfort and security, but it is a valuable enhancement of an individual’s earning potential, provided the student makes an effort to choose the right course and institution.
It is axiomatic that employers are generally more impressed by degrees from Russell Group universities than from most “new” universities (former polytechnics). This does not mean that someone with a specific ambition should not consider more vocational rather than academic courses.
The highly competitive School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University, for example, has an enviable reputation, and its graduates pursue highly rewarding careers in sports management, training and related fields.
More generally, some traditional courses fail to meet employers’ requirements, as was emphasized in a recent speech by David Willetts, the Minister of State for Universities and Science.
Willetts described how some Biology courses fail to prepare their graduates for the labour market by giving insufficient weight to key subject areas such as toxicology or molecular biology.
He went on to discuss the accreditation of courses by professional organisations such as the Society of Biology, which help to guide students to the courses that will prepare them for the most interesting and rewarding jobs.
The Value of Apprenticeships
Recently, both the government and employers have increased investment in apprenticeships, including advanced and higher apprenticeships that can lead to excellent jobs, with the apprentices earning at least a basic wage rather than incurring high levels of student debt.
Recent newspaper articles (e.g. The Guardian, 24 September 2011) have reported on successful apprentices working in such fields as the motor industry and nuclear power. As one apprentice, a 22-year-old engineer at Honda, put it, he considers himself “streets ahead” of contemporaries that chose the university route.
The Greatest Boon of a University Education
The supremacy of university education is not something that can be taken for granted.
A badly planned and mediocre university career might lead to a burden of debt without sufficient professional and financial compensations, and many routes to a successful career do not involve university.
Nonetheless, the statistics remain potent and persuasive. Graduates are rarely unemployed and frequently well-paid, generally gaining qualifications that are highly valued by major employers.
Indeed, leading companies, from the accountancy firm KPMG to the supermarket chain Morrisons, are increasingly establishing schemes that pay undergraduates’ fees while also giving them paid work.
Valuable as these initiatives are, most undergraduates will still take advantage of the greatest boon of a university education – flexibility, the ability to transfer skills gained in a particular discipline to an unrelated field.
Biology graduates, for example, might become city traders or management consultants not because they were unable to get a job in the life science sector, but because they have deliberately chosen another type of career.
Ultimately, graduates still have the pick of the best jobs – and the highest remuneration.