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Degree or not degree?

Posted on 29 September 2015 by Jenny Jackman, Intern .
Tags: British Social Attitudes, degree, higher education, students, universities

It’s that time of the year again. Across the country fresh faces are arriving at their halls of residence, older students are reuniting with friends, and of course, everyone is - or will eventually get round to - studying for their lectures.

For some, university is a rite of passage into adult life. These three or four years bring with them new friends, new places and new experiences, but does it help to get a better job at the end?

Recent research shows that 60% of UK graduates are working in jobs that do not require a degree, one of the highest in Europe.

Too many university places?

One reason for the over-qualification of graduates in this country could be that such a high number of young people in the UK are going to university. Comparisons between UK and Germany made by the Higher Education Policy Institute show that 48% of 25-34 year olds in UK hold university qualifications, almost double the amount in Germany, where only 27% have a degree. Young German graduates are also more likely to work in graduate level jobs; only 10% of graduates are in non-graduate jobs.

With this in mind, findings from the most recent British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey show that fewer than 1 in 3 think a degree is value for money. Over half say it isn't, while a further 18% think it depends on the subject.

So should the number of university places be reduced?

The majority of us don’t think so. BSA shows that while 43% of respondents think there are too many graduates in the UK labour market, only 12% feel the number of university places should be reduced. Nearly half of us think that the number of places should stay the same and 39% think the number should in fact be increased. While it’s clearly a minority of people who believe higher education places should be reduced, this proportion has increased over the last two decades from 3% in 1993.

Attitudes To HE

It is important for people to have alternatives to university. BSA shows that people think practical skills and training are better than good academic results for getting more opportunities and this has been the case since 2005. But leading figures, such as Alison Wolf at Kings College London, have expressed concern over the lack of funding and the shrinking size of training and apprenticeships in the UK.

Despite the over-qualification of graduates, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills found that graduates are more likely to be in work than non-graduates and on average young graduates earn £9,000 more per year. However, this ‘graduate premium’ in salary has been decreasing over recent years.

Although on the face of it this looks like bad news for graduates, since the cap on the number of places at English universities was lifted earlier this year, admissions are up by 3% compared to last year. Clearly, many still think a degree is worth it.

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