University degrees are overrated. There, its out there and I am not taking it back! I have major concerns about the stranglehold universities have over both our children’s education and their future recruitment.
I first began to question the value of degrees a few years ago. When I was on the interview panel seeking, to recruit an individual for an entry level media relations role. Numerous graduates had applied for the job and every applicant’s CV followed the same pattern. Degree followed by 12-18 months work in either unpaid or short-term internships, often lasting around three months.
Discrimination against people both with and without University Degrees
This experience made me question what was going on in the world of recruitment. It seemed to me that there were so many graduates looking for work that employers could be hyper-selective. To the point that young adults who had left university tens of thousands of pounds in debt could find themselves working unpaid before securing their first entry level role.
Were they in a better position than someone who left school and went straight into work after school? At least the 18 year old school leaver would be earning a proper salary by their early twenties.
I heard of another horror story that demonstrates the negative impact mass university education has had on recruitment. Someone I know with 18 years’ experience working in IT management interviewed for a new job. One of the interviewers asked why his degree wasn’t on his CV. My friend explained he didn’t have a degree, at which point the atmosphere changed. He never heard from the interview panel again. I can’t say for certain what the problem was on this occasion, but I’ll take a guess.
Encouraging young people to finish school and go to uni has been going on for the past 25 years. Government policy was to get at least 50% of youngsters into higher education. This was only dropped in the past few months. The result is that we now have 25 years’ worth of graduates in the workforce. Many of them in managerial positions and recruiting staff. These managers naturally want to recruit their own kind and so graduates have the edge. We’re now in the ridiculous position where many administrative roles require you to have a degree.
For Universities, with great Power comes great Profit.
Universities are doing nothing to stop this. They’re making a fortune in tuition fees. It’s not in their financial interest to make degrees difficult or be fussy about who they let through the doors.
As if to prove the point, I recently bumped into an academic I know while at the supermarket. It was a typical lockdown thing, we hadn’t seen each other in several months and so spent the best part of half an hour, facemasks covering our faces, putting the world to rights while stood next to shelves of dried pasta (one metre apart, obviously).
During our chat, he admitted to me that some of the degrees his students study were bumped up to the Masters degree. The degree had been simplified so it could include modules on skills such as giving presentations, the kind of thing a corporate trainer teaches you in a day.
Students are leaving university around £60,000 in debt. What are they getting for that debt? If this is a typical example my friend gave, it suggests that many students are getting sub-standard degrees. They will spend a year or two in insecure, poorly paid work before getting an entry level job. I am not against universities or degrees, but I find myself seriously questioning the wisdom of mass, degree-level education.
Alternatives to University
Universities definitely have their place in the higher education system. What’s happened, however, is that alternatives are thin on the ground. I am just old enough to remember polytechnics. They were much derided, but with hindsight I think it’s fair to say they had an incredibly valuable place in our education system providing technical, vocational qualifications.
I’d also question whether teachers and career advisers do enough to encourage youngsters to consider apprenticeships or Higher National Diplomas. Modern apprenticeships, especially higher apprenticeships, look like a superb way to gain a degree and work experience without building up any of the debilitating debt (someone I know involved in recruitment tells me his organisation recruits apprentices and also has a graduate fast track scheme. He says the apprentices are often brilliant whereas many of the graduates arrive “with an attitude problem.”)
The Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has publicly said he thinks there is a “snobbishness” around vocational qualifications and that he wants this to change. I think he is absolutely correct and I am delighted to see the Government introducing T-Levels and is pushing to increase the profile of apprenticeships. For any dads wishing to give their kids some career advice vocational qualifications are something to consider.
The recruitment industry, however, has a role to play. If an employer or a manager says a role should only be open to graduates, recruitment agencies and HR professionals should ask why. Employers and managers need to challenge their own bias about non-graduates.
Mass, degree education may have seemed like a good idea when it was introduced. A quarter of a century later, I think we need to ask if the power unwittingly given to universities is doing more harm than good.
If you want to read more about this topic why not have a read of why the apprenticeship route is a smart alternative choice to university.