University Isn’t Always the Answer

With today’s economic climate, it would seem the general  consensus is that in order for a school leaver to succeed in their chosen career, they will have needed to have gone to university. And it would seem that people are listening, as, despite the increase in university tuition fees, the average university intake per capita is still on the rise. But, is university really the right direction for everyone to go down?

It is true that there are a number of benefits that a university graduate will be offered. Firstly, they will have access to a wider range of jobs that those without degrees. For example, graduates are more likely to work in higher skilled posts than non-graduates, especially in specific sectors such as medicine and law. However, depending on which area your degree is in, and how specialised the university you attend is, this can vary from graduate to graduate.

In a report published by the Office of National Statistics in November 2013, in April to June 2013, graduates were more likely to be employed than those who left education with qualifications of a lower standard. The report also showed that non-graduates aged 21 to 30 have consistently higher unemployment rates than all other groups and have much higher inactivity rates than recent graduates.

University also provides individuals with additional skills and attributes that go beyond what is written on your CV, for example diligence and level of responsibility. When talking to employers who take on graduates, they are able to recognise these traits in the development of a graduate’s character which set them apart from non-graduates.

On average, at least initially, graduate wages are also statistically higher than non-graduates. In the Office of National Statistics report released in November 2013, it showed that annual earnings for graduates reached a higher peak at a later age than the annual earnings for non-graduates. This alone could be a big reason behind why people choose university as the right option for them.

HOWEVER, there are also many cases where university is not always the answer, especially in Guernsey. With the island’s rich financial centre, if you are a driven A Level student who is looking to secure a career in areas such as accountancy, trust or funds, then by obtaining a trainee level position in this area you will have built up three years skills by the time those who attended university finish their degrees. You would also have accumulated three years worth of earnings — and, although graduates are statistically more likely to be paid a higher annual salary on average to non-graduates, they won’t have the debts that the majority of graduates leave university with. A candidate’s experience and their ability to undertake any given role will soon speak louder to an employer than educational background.

Additionally, degrees are not the only qualification that will set you apart from others. Undertaking Professional Qualifications such as ACCA, ICSA, STEP, or any courses or qualifications relevant to the sector you want to go into will also show an employer the work-seeker’s willingness to learn and desire for their chosen industry. If someone is working hard to achieve their goals within a specific area, rather than studying towards a degree that may not be relevant to the job they end up doing, then this could easily differentiate them from graduates.

Although graduates are more likely to be in employment that non-graduates, there is also no guarantee that a graduate will easily secure work once they have finished their chosen degree. In fact, figures published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed that on average, 9.2per cent of graduates in 2012 had not found employment 6 months after graduating.  Although you do have to take statistics with a pinch of salt, with the chances of landing a job varying considerably between institutions, this means that nearly 10% failed to secured work despite studying and working hard for three years and building up debts.

Other data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency also found that the number of graduates taking on menial jobs such as that do not require a degree have almost doubled over the past six years. In fact, a study carried out by the Office for National Statistics in 2013 found that 47% of employed works who left university within the last five years are undertaking roles that do not require higher education qualifications.

There is no right or wrong answer — going to university will benefit some people more than it will others, and vice versa. But what is key is to remember that you do not need to go to university to do well in your career. You only need to look at industry professionals such as Simon Cowell, who only gained a handful of O Levels, Sir Richard Branson who left with no qualifications whatsoever, and Lord Alan Sugar who only has one single GCSE to realise that if you have the right attitude and desire to succeed, then anything is possible.