Is University A Con?

For decades, successive governments have pushed young people towards university like it is a golden ticket to all the best-paid jobs and careers. With many parents also seeing university as the best destination for their children, and teachers also often promoting university above other choices, it is perhaps little surprise that a great many young people took the advice, packed up their things, and went to start life at university. You might be thinking of doing the same, -off-setting the £9,000 per year tuition fees against the promise of the great career your degree will bring you. Surely, the debts are just an investment in yourself and your future? Debts that your high-powered, big-earning career will easily pay off later? Sadly, for many graduates, this isn’t the reality.

The latest labour market statistics show that the reality for 31% of today’s graduates means not doing a graduate or high-skilled job. With nearly one-third of all graduates failing to find appropriate work it is clear that supply of graduates is outstripping the demand among employers. The statistics show that the situation is even worse for black graduates, with just 37% landing graduate jobs after university.

What is perhaps more interesting is that this is not a new thing, either.

Two economists from the University of Kent looked into graduates entering the jobs market between 1992 and 2006 – and the results were surprisingly similar to those from today. Again, one third of graduates were ‘overqualified’ for their jobs, which often didn’t require a university degree. These findings undermine theories that today’s graduate job market is still suffering the after-effects of the economic downturn, since the earlier statistics include some economic boom years, yet still show the same levels of graduates failing to find appropriate work.

Of course, the real difference between today and the older figures is that today’s graduates have forked out thousands in tuition fees. For today’s students, the university and graduate jobs ‘gamble’ is now about money as well as time. It is perhaps little surprise therefore that more young people are looking at apprenticeships as a financially-viable alternative to university.

Rightly or wrongly, it would appear that students have been misinformed about their post-university prospects for years, so what is being done about it?

Some fear that a new higher education bill could see the £9,000 tuition fee cap lifted, effectively opening up universities to market forces, with the better colleges free to charge whatever they feel people will pay. Although nothing has been confirmed, this must open up concerns over young people from less-well-off backgrounds being pushed out? This is without even considering the mental health impact that tuition fees have on students.

For now, it may be a bit harsh to say that university (and the promise of a graduate career) is a con – but it is certainly a gamble – and not one that every student realises they are signing up for!

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