Don’t define your degree by how much you earn

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.


4 thoughts on “Don’t define your degree by how much you earn

  1. James Hunt says:

    I agree that University should be far more about the experience and intellectual rigour you undergo rather than your starting salary, but unfortunately I think that is what has become of tertiary education in this country. Education is about much more than taking exams and getting a mark out of 100, but I can’t say I have experienced this type of ‘education’ while at University in my last 3 years. As an Economics and Politics student I have frankly been astounded at the lack of opportunity for debate to test my own ideas against others and challenge my thinking. Many tutors do not appear to care about our intellectual discovery and do not facilitate the chance for pressing our own thoughts during seminars or tutorials. From my perspective, University has been much more about passing exams and writing essays within the set guidelines rather than having the opportunity to explore my subject unguided. As such, while I do have the experience of extra curricular activities that I certainly wouldn’t begrudge during my time, when I (hopefully) graduate this Summer, my piece of paper won’t represent a great deal to me, other than a ticket to start a new chapter of my life.

    • sneweyy says:

      That’s so interesting and is actually different to my university experience, I feel like my tutors do care what I think and often my seminars have been focused about debating an event/subject and presenting different opinions about how it happened etc. For example my current tutor told us in our exams he wants, more than anything, to know what we think. I’m not saying that Bristol is perfect, but I do feel like I’ve learned a lot both about my subject and my opinions in the past three years – although a lot of this is also due to Epigram, unsurprisingly. But I think that my point still stands; even if it’s not perfect at the moment, university should just be more than just a ‘ticket to start a new chapter’ and that’s what universities should be working towards and providing for students.

      • James Hunt says:

        Thats good to hear and I wish I could say my experience was the same. For example, however, one politics module last term, I had one, two-hour seminar a week with around 15-20 students, depending on attendance. When the Seminar is only 2 hours long (in reality 1 hour and 40 minutes), each student is getting around 5 minutes to speak, at best. We were directed to what we should discuss and then given turns to raise our points. We were quickly knocked back in line with the syllabus if we went away from it. While there was a chance for mini debates, it never really went anywhere because there simply wasn’t the time. Our tutor wanted to cover what would come up in the exams to prepare us for them, not really giving us the opportunity to advance. This isn’t going to get better with more and more students each year!

  2. sneweyy says:

    Yeah I completely agree, student numbers is a huge issue and when we pay £9,000 a year I think students deserve more than what they’re getting. But I still don’t want to view my degree simply as a stepping stone, I think education is worth more than that. And maybe if we all start to emphasise that, more than what job we’re going to get at the end of uni, it would encourage universities to look more closely at student numbers and what they offer. It would also encourage the government to invest more in higher education rather than just pushing more and more young people to go. Or maybe that’s optimistic/unrealistic – but my point still stands, I don’t want to view my degree simply as a stepping stone for me the past three years have been more than that.

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