Graduate futures: From bright to bleak?

29 Nov 2013

For most graduates, gaining a degree has been a way to increase career prospects. Over the past 50 years the higher education system has expanded rapidly in order to meet the needs of an economy which has seen a shift from manufacturing to knowledge-based workers.  Typically, those who gain a degree increase their average salary compared to those who do not obtain a degree. However, recent statistics released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) may question the worth of gaining a degree.


The statistics released highlight that more graduates are going into jobs that do not require a degree at all, showing that 47% of graduates now go into low skilled labour compared to 37% in 2001. The biggest increase in these statistics came after the start of the recession in 2008.  This can be seen as a consequence of fewer graduate jobs at a time where there are more people graduating. This is alarming for the British economy, as John Philpott, director of The Jobs Economist consultancy states: "The pre-recession rates of underemployment of graduate skills in the UK economy were already disappointing – the post-recession rates represent an alarming jump in underemployment and a massive waste of investment in skills."

Due to the recent hike in tuition fees, David Cameron hoped that potential students would choose what degree they decided to undertake more wisely. Indeed, according to the ONS, it seems that the more highly regarded the degree, the better your job prospects. For example, graduates who studied medicine have the highest rates of employment, with an average salary of £45,000 a year, compared to graduates of media studies, who average at £21,000. This, therefore, emphasises why leading figures feel that it is important for potential students to choose wisely what degree they wish to undertake. It seems as though achieving a degree in the humanities and media are becoming less desirable in the job market compared to more prestige degrees such as medicine and engineering. Indeed, these are said to be the ones that will, ‘drive the economy forward’ according Steve Radley, the director of policy at EEF.

The ONS’ report may leave graduates and students feeling angry and misled by the opportunities that higher education is supposed to bring to them, but is it all doom and gloom? No. Even though more graduates are going into jobs that do not require a degree, their chances of landing a job are increased compared to people who do not have a degree. Also, earnings are likely to increase rapidly compared to those who only obtained A-levels. The report sights that at the age of 38 the average income for a graduate is £38,000 a year, compared to £22,000 for those who did not attend university.

Essentially, the question really lies upon whether the benefits of obtaining a degree outweigh the costs? In an economy where there are more graduates but less graduate jobs, it is easy to understand why people may feel disheartened by the situation they find themselves in, or even for potential students who may look at the system and think ‘what’s the point?’. Arguably though, obtaining a degree still has its benefits; people who gain a degree still have better job prospects and earnings over their lifetime. Nevertheless, with a well overdue economic recovery seemingly on its way, hopefully graduates will once again start to experience rewards for their efforts in higher education that outweigh the costs.

By Beccie Ions

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