Recruiter SoapBox: Is it worth going to university to get a job?

News in this week – the U.K. job market for new university graduates has shrunk this year, even though the economy has improved. Outspoken recruitment specialist Mitch Sullivan wonders is it worth going to university to get a job?.

Recession-induced nervousness, and massive hikes in tuition fees have spooked many people into questioning the real value of a university education. Does a degree significantly improve someone’s chances of getting a job? The default (or possibly even knee-jerk) response to this has probably been an emphatic ‘Yes’. But let’s take a closer look at some of the numbers before we decide.

Recent research has indicated that 25% of graduates are unemployed. When you compare that with the 26% unemployment rate of people who left school with only GCSEs, you start to see why the question needs to be asked. The percentage of unemployed people finishing their education at A-Level was only 20% – but with the caveat that this group was much smaller than the other two.

That last sentence begs another question; is the volume of graduates flooding the jobs market rendering degrees virtually meaningless?  Could it be argued that “Must have a degree” has become the new “Must be able to read and write”?

Other reports claim that grade inflation has become endemic, which may explain why the number of people with a degree has increased so much over the past 20 years.

Does this mean people are getting smarter? If like me, you have to read a lot of CVs from people under 30, you’re probably recalling the abysmal spelling and grammar whilst shaking your head. If we agree that people probably aren’t getting smarter (at least not in the conventional sense) and that there are more people on the market with degrees that may flatter their intelligence, then it’s fair to assume that going to university isn’t necessary to land a job.

There are a few buts. People who want to become lawyers, doctors and teachers don’t have any choice but go to university. That leaves us with candidates who choose a degree based on their intellectual passions/interests (humanitarian, art, philosophy, etc.) and those who choose their degree based on what they think potential employers are going to want them to have (business management, finance/accounting, etc.).

In my experience, graduates who chose non-business degree courses tend to be more impressive job candidates – in the same way that people who try to suck-up to the system are generally less likeable than those who follow their own instincts. But these candidates are infinitely more attractive than someone who went really narrow and did a degree in ‘Applied Golf Management’ or ‘Equestrian Psychology’. And yes, they do exist.

We also have to factor-in current attitudes towards hiring graduates. Most of the top graduate employers only consider applicants with a 2:1. But there’s a ‘Moneyball’ trend emerging; ‘Headed for a 2:2 or a third?’ ask braver employees, “Finish your joint and come and work for us.”

Polls suggest that the value of degrees in the job market is splitting opinion down the middle. But which side of the fence do I sit on? I say ‘No’; it isn’t really worth going to university to get a job.

I think it’s only really worth going to university if you have a massive intellectual or emotional connection with your intended degree subject, are work-shy or are in serious danger of getting strangled by your mother’s apron strings. For everyone else, get on your bike and find a job. It doesn’t matter what job; just get a job. Learn how to fit in with something bigger than your own previously narrow worldview and earn some money; for you and for UK plc. You can always go to university a year or so later and that work experience will stand you in good stead once you finally graduate.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I rest my case.

2 Comments

  1. George Smith September 5, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    What doesn’t get covered in debates like this is what else students pick up in uni – a huge ego and an unrealistic sense of worth given to them by 3 years of brain washing from academics who have rarely worked a day in their lives!

    The result is too many kids thinking they can leave with a bit of paper and become an MD within 6 months! When it doesn’t happen, they can’t handle the fact that degrees used to be for the exceptional 2% of the population – not the 50% who were scared of getting their hands dirty!

    We need a decade of less students to get some balance into the workplace – then there might be some value in getting a degree.

  2. English Teacher August 27, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    Putting a question mark followed by a full stop on the first paragraph.

    Sentences such as: “And yes, they do exist.”

    In your profile you spell “inhouse” wrong too.

    Statements such as: “If we agree that people probably aren’t getting smarter”, and “If like me, you have to read a lot of CVs from people under 30, you’re probably recalling the abysmal spelling and grammar whilst shaking your head.”

    Not good is it.

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