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Is University for Everyone?

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Ever since the era of Tony Blair, it has become an expectation that every young person should - indeed must - go to university. The previous Prime Minister was passionate in his idea that university was for everyone; and in the era before university fees, it certainly seemed reasonable that university was simply the next mandatory step for students who had just completed their A-levels, or an equivalent qualification.

Mr Blair`s logic seemed to be that, with even more highly educated people, possessing degrees and Phd`s, the economy would somehow become boosted. What he perhaps failed to realise was that, just because you create a highly skilled workforce, the the jobs unitising their skills will not just magically appear.

The truth is that almost 25% of all 21 year olds leaving university with a degree are left unemployed. There are simply not enough jobs to supply all the highly qualified students leaving university. Research conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has revealed the disheartening information that six out of ten university graduates are over qualified for the jobs they are doing. There is a simply a shortage of high skilled vacancies.

The report goes on to warn that graduation qualification has reached a `saturation point,` and that there is an overabundance of people with specific, highly skilled qualifications, with perhaps no real hope of ever finding a job that calls upon all their skills.

The result of this over education, and lack of specialised jobs, means we have a growing body of dissatisfied young people, who have studied diligently for many years, and racked up thousands of pounds in debt, only to find themselves stuck in menial, low paid jobs. It is not uncommon for people who have spent time at university, and left with a degree, to find themselves worse off than their friends who entered the job market the moment they left school; and after three years of work these academically lower qualified friends will have had time to progress in their profession, while those with a degree will be starting from the bottom, while also likely encumbered with considerable debt.

The CIPD found that, amongst European countries, only Greece and and Estonia have more graduates working in jobs they are over qualified for. Countries that favour vocational training, such as Germany, have only 10% of university graduates working in non graduate professions. Britain possesses the second highest graduation rate in Europe (just behind Iceland), with 54% of those leaving education possessing a degree.

The CIPD has been called on to help produce a `productivity plan,` in the hope of creating both more high skilled professions, and also ensuring graduates are guided towards sectors of the job market where their skills will be put to best use.

The Chief Executive of the CIPD, Peter Cheese, has said that `The assumption that we will transition to a more productive, higher value, higher skilled economy just by increasing the conveyor belt of graduates is proven to be flawed.

This sentiment clearly highlights the short sightedness of Tony Blair`s ambition of ensuring every young student goes to university: you need the infrastructure already in place before you supply the workforce. You can`t simply create tens of thousands of specialised, highly skilled jobs by saturating the market with an abundance of university graduates every year.

Peter Cheese went on to say `The government needs to ensure its productivity plan includes a specific focus on creating more high-skilled jobs and work with employers, particularly SMEs, and with key stakeholders like Local Enterprise Partnerships and Business Growth Hubs to help build organisations` capability to achieve this.`

If students wish to go to university they certainly should not be dissuaded from doing so: education enriches life, broadens the mind, and opens more doors than just those leading to their dream profession. But since they may be burdened with considerable debt at the end of their course, and might find themselves seeking in vain for employment that unitises the skills and qualifications they have spent years working for, students shouldn`t me made to feel compelled to attend university. They deserve to be informed, in a clear and concise way, about the job opportunities the degree they are contemplating will leave them with.

19 months ago
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