For many of us, the end of uni is in sight – all we need to do is get through those last exams, coursework deadlines and lectures, then the world is our oyster.
Or is it?
We’ve all seen the headlines. Students today can expect to have an average of £42,000 of debt by the time they graduate. And for what? Does, as the government repeatedly tells us, a university degree really result in a higher paid, better job afterwards?
With ever increasing student numbers, the argument that degrees are being devalued is a strong one; in 2015, it was estimated by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development that 58.8 per cent of graduates were not in graduate jobs. Instead, the number of graduates ‘significantly outstripped’ the creation of high-skilled jobs.
Last month, Aditya Chakrabortty highlighted this trend in an article in the Guardian. Chakrabortty suggested that universities and the government owe students an apology; they’ve misled us into thousands of pounds of debt by promises of highly paid jobs graduate jobs.
This argument clearly has its merits – if you came to university purely to earn more in the future, the difference between yourself and non-graduates has become less marked since our parent’s generation.
That said, the most recent figures from Department for Business and Innovative Skills still suggest that men will earn an average of £168,000 more with a degree, while women can expect an average net graduate premium of £252,000.
It’s also worth noting that your chances of financial success after university also depend on where you attend, what you study and your degree classification. According to High Fliers research, for example, Bristol is the fourth most targeted university by top employers. Good news for us.
Focusing on how much more we can earn or what job we can get afterwards devalues the importance of what we actually learn
But does this whole debate miss the point of university? Does it suggest that we know the price of everything, but the value of nothing?
I would argue that it does; university offers so much more than a better job afterwards. What about the societies we can get involved in, the people we meet and the experiences of living away from home for the first time?
And then there’s the not so small point about our education. University is about furthering our knowledge, exploring a subject in more detail and engaging in debates; focusing on how much more we can earn or what job we can get afterwards devalues the importance of what we actually learn.
To view the last three years simply as a stepping stone ignores everything I’ve achieved while at Bristol and the fantastic experiences I’ve had
So, while Chakrabortty is correct that the way the government and universities sell themselves is misleading, this is not because we can’t expect to earn as much as they tell us afterwards. It’s because their focus is too narrow and misses the point.
Sure, I hope that my degree will help me get a job once I graduate. But to view the last three years simply as a stepping stone ignores everything I’ve achieved while at Bristol and the fantastic experiences I’ve had which I simply would not have got had I not come.