Going to university is expensive. There is no way of getting around the fact, especially when research shows that student debts from university can equal over one third of an average mortgage! But, young people are often told, with a degree comes the chance of getting a better-paid job – the so-called graduate wage premium, which is supposed to offset the cost of university by ensuring you get a better paid career as a result. In this way, student debts become an ‘investment’ rather than a cost, while some careers still require you to have a university degree in order to get into them. But how true are these assertions? Does a degree always lead to better wages, or is there a financial risk involved in going to university?
Unfortunately, not every graduate ends up landing their dream job, and many land up taking work that they could have got into without ever going to university. In fact, statistics show that tens of thousands of graduates are working in non-graduate jobs – including as farm workers, retail assistants and security guards. Surely these career moves were not those that these former students envisioned as they packed up to start their life at uni?
Indeed, many young people head off to university without a clear idea of what they want to do when they come out of the other side. This may be because these young people were always ‘expected’ to go to university (often at the behest of parents), or even just to ‘buy some more time’ before starting a career (quite literally, it seems!).
Whereas this may have worked in the past, the cost of university tuition makes this automatic move from A-levels to university an expensive gamble. There is no guarantee of a great career at the end of your degree, and often graduates find themselves competing with one-another in an over-saturated job market. With more young people going to university than ever before this imbalance between the number of graduates and the number of graduate jobs only looks set to get worse.
This is not to say that university isn’t a good option for some. Despite the cost, it can work out and, as we said above, may be the only option to get into some careers. But where this is not the case, then it surely makes sense to examine all of your options before applying to university.
However, this is where a lot of young people are being failed by the careers advice they are getting. There is often very little focus on alternative routes into work, like apprenticeships, as well as things such as sponsored degrees (where your tuition fees are paid for you!).
Without decent, impartial careers advice it is very difficult for young people and their parents to make the right choices. Information is key, yet it isn’t always making it to those who need it, leaving many young people feeling that the only real option is to go to university.
While research that we conducted has shown that cost is the main reason for Britons to decide against going to university (58%), and is also the main reason why students drop out (65%), the price of tuition looks set to keep going up. It makes me wonder at what point the balance will finally tip and university will simply be seen as too much of a gamble to be worthwhile. This is, of course, especially true of those from poorer backgrounds, who are shown to be less likely to be accepted into the better-performing universities – creating a university-based division between the rich and the poor in society.
With 71% of those we questioned saying that they felt tuition fees should be lowered, and 80% of students saying they expected more from university, it seems that we may already be getting close to the point when university is no longer seen as the best option for everyone.
To be clear, university is not a bad or a good option for everyone – there is no one-size-fits-all career path, and making sure that young people have information about all of their options is important. Universities spend a lot of money promoting themselves to young people, while a lack of trained careers advisors means that other options are not fully explored in schools and colleges. Until this changes, it seems that young people will continue to blindly walk into the university gamble, running up debts that they may never repay for a career that simply wasn’t there.
University may the best or only option for you, but please, just take some time to explore the other potential career paths – you may be surprised!