Is a degree worth the cost if it doesn't lead to a better job?

Mark Stammers's picture

Pretty soon I’m going to have to start admitting to myself that my little girl isn’t so little anymore. Most dads seem to struggle with the concept that their daughters are growing up. My ‘little girl’ is in fact 17 and heading into her second year of sixth-form college to complete her A-levels.

What seems to be taking up most of her time since returning from the summer break is the completion of her UCAS application form, as well as a growing round of university open days. This is clearly an exciting time for her, as it is for most students her age, planning for their immediate and long-term futures. The prospect of living away from home for the first time, and making new friends in a new city fill their thoughts. And while most fathers would worry about their daughters being on their own so far from home – and boys, drugs, drinking, partying, boys (did I mention them already) – I am also very worried about the heavy financial burden she may be taking on, which could be £53,000 or more by the time she graduates.

Getting into university has long been a celebrated achievement in most middle-class UK families. But with the huge costs involved and the fact that in 2011 graduates found it harder to get jobs compared to school leavers with A-Levels, are we still right to laud university as the finishing line for a successful education?

Given the growing need for highly skilled trades shouldn’t any sensible parent be guiding their children towards apprenticeships or other skill-based further education courses? I have heard endless tales of degree-laden candidates applying for entry-level jobs they are hideously over-qualified for. Surely they could have saved themselves a lot of unnecessary hard work by focusing their talents towards the job markets where vacancies do exist. That is if they had been encouraged to see that not all worthwhile vocations require a degree to lead to a lucrative future career.

And when our children do choose to carry on to university, there needs to be a more concerted effort made by government and industry to encourage applicants to take up courses that lead to careers in skills that this country is currently lacking. The UK needs many more medical professionals, scientists and engineers of all varieties as well as geologists and mining specialists.

Luckily for me, my daughter is a level-headed and sensible sort (she gets it from her mum). She is already considering alternatives to university, including the possibility of deferring for a year to see if she can find a job with her A-level results. Whatever she eventually decides to do she has, at the very least, realised that being flexible with your future goals is going to be a necessity for her and her peers as they move into the world of work.