Are degrees still worth our time?

The number of graduates are increasing, but those pursuing a future degree are decreasing in numbers. The debate on degree worth has never been so fiercely discussed until now.

1 in 3 British graduates work in roles which do not require a degree making them over-qualified, one of the highest rates in Europe, according to research commissioned by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). This may be due to the fact the UK has the second highest graduation rate among the OECD countries, with only Iceland having a higher rate at 54%. Countries such as Germany, The Netherlands and Slovenia have 10% or less of their graduates in non-graduate jobs, thanks to their history of strong vocational training.

In fact over a third of UK graduates say that they regret attending university, according to a research carried out by insurance company, Aviva. Out of them, 37% said this is due to the amount of debt which they are now in: graduates having an average debt of £44,000 each, with official estimates that 45% of student loans will never be paid off.

These findings were widely criticised by universities throughout the country. They pointed to the annual National Student Survey (NUS) which recorded responses from 312,000 final year students and found an overall satisfaction rating of 86%, the same as the previous year.

Additionally, roles which didn’t require degrees in the past such as nursing, banking and real estate, are now being filled by graduates. This leaves fewer options for school-leavers, according to CIPD. The CIPD say that subsequently, the shared ideal to get more young people into education is no longer justified.

Yet figures show that this isn’t exactly the case. The Government estimation shows the number of jobs requiring a degree is due to rise by 46% by 2022.

In fact, engineering companies are projected to have 2.74 million job openings between 2010 and 2020. Of which roughly 87,000 will require graduates. Yet the UK only produces 46,000 engineering graduates per year, despite engineering graduates earning 15.7% more than the average for all students. And whose industry is likely to keep expanding and providing more opportunities, according to EngineeringUK.

There is a shortage of high-skilled jobs available in other industries. However,  there is also a skills shortage in trade-work which tend to prioritise experience over education; a degree can mean nothing if one can’t produce the work and prove the crafted skill. This could potentially mean more apprenticeships will be available, opening opportunities for those who do not wish to pursue a degree.

We need to make sure that university isn’t the only option that is available to high school students and that university shouldn’t be regarded as the be all and end all. Many may feel university is the next step because their schools or teachers see so, but that’s not always the case. There are a variety of ways to create a career now; to discard those would be failing to potential outside a degree. Paths such as modern apprenticeships being more suited, with earnings as skills are developed and an understanding between the idea of education, and a degree. We also need to see employers review their recruitment practices, to ensure that they are not using a degree as a screening process when recruiting for jobs.

What we are failing to remember in terms of university graduates is that university isn’t merely about a degree. We forget one of the most alluring parts of a university degree is the university experience; the opportunities and networks which one is exposed to, and can access in a university setting, are unrivalled. It’s these networking opportunities which can bring jobs, more skills and make a degree feel worth it.

By Naina Bhardwaj