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Are degrees essential?

It seems that everybody has a degree these days, it increasingly appears that the expensive three years of work, plus a little play, may be time better spent. Many graduates wish they had not gone to university and believe they could have done as well in their career via training or an apprenticeship a recent survey by Qube Learning shows. Statistics from the CIPD show that almost half of graduates are in jobs unrelated to their degree.

It’s often assumed that if you have a degree you will earn more money. However, a Sutton trust report found that those who did the very best apprenticeships earned more than graduates with degrees from non-Russell Group universities over their lifetime.

With the government allowing universities to raise maximum fees to £9,250 this year, and the pending decision whether they can increase these further by inflation each year until 2020, it is obvious why many are opting out of university. Current students will also face an interest rate of 6.1% when they start university this month leaving students with an average debt of £50,800. Furthermore, figures show that over a third of graduates are still in non-graduate jobs five years after graduating which gives you pause for thought.

When previously searching for jobs, I came across many job descriptions which included a degree in the essential criteria. However, it was quite obvious to me that a degree wasn’t really necessary and the application form didn’t state that the degree subject had to have any relevance to the job. This is where it begins to look discriminatory. The law states that job advertisements must not discriminate, but surely specifying a degree as a requirement, when one is not required, is discrimination. But how can this be proven?

It is sad that in the 21st century, universities do not seem to reflect the rich cultural and social mix we enjoy in the UK, yet news headlines such as ‘Segregation in university choices’ or ‘Wealth gap in university places’ are sadly all to regular. According to 2015/16 figures, less than a quarter of domiciled university students in the UK are from Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic backgrounds. If a degree has become a pre-requisite for a job, even if the role does not demand graduate level skills, it does not bode well for social mobility, equality and fairness.

So what about people applying for jobs who have other qualifications such as level three or four diplomas? These people will probably have more experience and a greater breadth of knowledge of their industry, but may lose out on a job as they do not have a degree. My advice would be, if a job doesn’t realistically require a degree or you feel as if your experience and training can match someone with a degree. then apply for the job nonetheless.

Another worrying phase is this kind of ‘top trump’ game people are made to play. A growing number of graduates are embarking on postgraduate degrees even when such qualifications are not a requirement for work in their chosen industry. Increasingly, people are pursuing a master’s degree not to stand out from the pack, but simply to keep up with it.

My way to stay ahead of the pack was to completely avoid university and learn the skills I require through an apprenticeship. Not only do I acquire the skills I need to complete the task at hand, but I also gain invaluable soft skills that can be used throughout life and in any job. My apprenticeship has given me experience, independence and an insight to the real world of work along with a wide range of other skills, which I believe I wouldn’t have learned at university. I feel prepared for, not only the work I am currently doing, but future roles and jobs.

My apprenticeship has allowed me to take control of tasks and projects from an early stage and gain the experience that you simply cannot get from a lecture.I am confident that I not only made the correct decision but that others are choosing to do the same as well. This year university applications fell by 4% which just goes to prove that people are taking up these other opportunities provided. 

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