A degree is seen as a thing of prestige. Dedicating one’s self to an undergraduate program of study is a great undertaking that passes knowledge to the next generation and allows a person to mature, while encouraging critical and independent thought (mostly). Some careers demand a formal education. Few of us would want to be treated by an autodidactic doctor. I am always pleased to see my dentist’s qualifications proudly hanging on his examination room wall before I allow him to poke around. A degree has benefits to the individual and to society as a whole (taking medical professionals as an example). Some of the direct benefits of a degree include:

  • Greater earning potential
  • Expand one’s knowledge
  • Graduates are statistically healthier
  • Graduates are more active members of the community e.g. they are more likely to volunteer and vote.

Studying for a degree is a fantastic experience. Not only do you learn wonderful things, you meet amazing people from far flung places and engage in deep conversations that make you reminisce wistfully about your “university days”. But your university experience may have occurred in a different time than today’s students.

Tuition Fees

The 1996 introduction of tuition fees to English universities (and subsequent increases) have made many question the necessity of a university education. However, the rate of applications, although taking a slight hit before 2011, have not ceased and continue to rise in spite of tuition charges. With fees now £9,250 per year, and with interest rates on students loans of 6.1%, the average student finishes university with £50,000 of debt. It is estimated that three-quarters of students will still be for paying for their student debt into their fifties. Many still greatly consider that graduates earn more than non-graduates and they enjoy greater job satisfaction (a multitude of studies demonstrate this), but with real wages falling, public sector wage caps, and rising inflation, this argument has started to lose some footing.

Employers

Do employers care about degrees? It used to be said that a degree was a foot-in-the-door. Adverts used to stipulate that a vacancy was for “graduates only” and many still do. However, in 2015 EY announced they would no longer look at A-level or degree results when assessing candidates. By January of 2016, the Big Four (Deloitte, PwC, KPMG, and EY) had all declared they would no longer look at exam results in their selection processes – for some, this effectively voided a large part of the value of their degree. More companies are following the example of the Big Four.

Do students care about degrees? A 2016 survey by the Higher Education Policy institute established that two-thirds of English students did not feel that the cost of the degree was value for money. As fees have risen, student satisfaction has fallen. Students are becoming more discerning. A multitude of factors are playing part; tuition fees, the cost of living, the buying power attached to tuition fees, fewer employers asking for a degree. Natural talent is considered more important than education.

The implications for this shift in thinking are staggering. Imagine a world where spending enough to send your child to the proper school to guarantee them a place at the best university, so they can land the most plum of jobs, no longer counts. A person’s innate ability is considered more important than their money and connections. What a crazy world it would be! But rather wonderful, too.

For some vocations, a degree is and always will be essential. For others, perhaps a degree is something to consider not doing. Your writer studied under-graduate and post-graduate law and is now the managing director of a marketing agency. I don’t regret my choices – I met incredible people, learned loads, got lost in deep philosophical conversations – but my education has had less impact on my career than I imagined it would the day I enrolled at university.