July 2024

Is it really worth going to university?

(Thursday blog)

Here’s an article I had published on the Internet yesterday and following the article is a short musical video of my latest book THE GREAT UNIVERSITY CON

About thirty years ago, there were around 800,000 students in UK higher education (HE). Now there are more than 2.3million. In the 1980s, fewer than one in six school-leavers went on to HE. Now about half will go to university or a HE college. Moreover, a survey conducted by the Institute for Education found that 97 per cent of parents wanted their children to go to university. But is a Uni education really the best decision for so many school-leavers?

Since the 1960s, it has been the policy of successive governments that the more young people who went on to HE, the more our country would benefit. However, despite a tripling in the number of university graduates since the 1980s, many UK employers have been struggling to find qualified job applicants, especially in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects, and have increasingly been forced to recruit from abroad to fill their more skilled positions.

As for university students, a massive surplus of graduates flooding on to the jobs market has made it increasingly difficult for them to find the graduate jobs they were as good as promised by the universities’ glossy marketing materials. In one year, there were more than 15,000 psychology graduates but only 720 training places available. Similarly, universities were educating around 8,500 forensic science students in the UK and yet there are only around 2,000 people working in the sector. A typical forensic science job may have over 1,000 applicants. One police chief described forensic science degrees as ‘a savage waste of young people’s time and parents’ money’. Even in law, a subject where a student might have a reasonable expectation of a job and a career, our universities are churning out over 17,000 law graduates a year for only 5,400 training places. More than one in ten childminders now have degrees, as do one in six call-centre staff and about one in four air cabin crew and theme park attendants.

There are at least two problems with the way our universities have expanded. Firstly, to find enough school-leavers to fill their courses, many universities have significantly lowered their entrance requirements. Recent figures show that 51 per cent of school-leavers were accepted into university with 3 Ds or lower at A-level. One university had a staggering 97 courses available for students with just 2 Es.

A second issue is that much of the universities’ expansion has occurred in subjects where there is no clearly identifiable need in the jobs market. Despite a tripling in the number of HE students since the early 1980s, the number studying engineering, pure maths, chemistry and architecture fell. But there were massive increases in the numbers studying psychology, social sciences, media studies, photography, forensic science, gender studies and creative arts and design.

Since 2012, universities have been able to charge students up to £9,250 a year plus inflation. The results are striking. Average student debt shot up from around £19,000 before the fees increase to about £59,000 in 2018. Latest estimates from the Institute of Fiscal Studies are that 83 per cent of students will be unable to repay their debts in full. Other calculations suggest that less than half the money loaned to students by taxpayers will be repaid. As for the hundreds of thousands of students who will graduate with little to no chance of ever finding a graduate job, much of their working lives will be blighted by their massive debts which will hinder their chances of achieving the rites of passage young adults expect – moving away from home, buying a property, getting married, having children.

Meanwhile the universities seem to be drowning in money since the fees increase. In just a few years, total university reserves have shot up from around £14billion to more than £44billion. This has led to a building spree as they splash the cash on new facilities and campuses in the expectation of ever-rising student numbers.

However, as ever more graduates flood on to the jobs market with huge debts and little chance of a job enabling them to repay those debts, disillusionment in a university education may spread. People will realise that the universities and the politicians have mis-sold the benefits of their increasingly dumbed-down and often worthless degrees. Students and parents will be livid when heavily-indebted graduates cannot find graduate jobs and they understand that billions have been paid to universities for little in return. Already we are seeing students suing their universities for misleading them into taking courses that had no chance of ever living up to the golden promises in the universities’ marketing prospectuses, and several universities have been forced by the Advertising Standards Authority to withdraw inaccurate claims in their marketing material.

Of course, university is the right choice for school-leavers intending to study serious subjects at reputable institutions. But school-leavers and their parents need to consider seriously whether a degree in cultural studies from the University of Nowhere really is worth three years and £60,000 in tuition fees and living expenses.

9 comments to Is it really worth going to university?

  • Julia Green

    Shocking, one of your best pieces. It’s outrageous. Would make a neat video also.

  • Dr J Richmond

    It’s a pity you omitted to point out that the only beneficiaries are university managements. Not only are the sums paid to Chancellors and Senior Management teams unjustifiable, they’re outrageous and multiples more than lecturers earn.

    This, a I forecasted at the time, is a result of the huge expansion of HE courtesy of Tony Blair and the creation of the Student Loan Company. Moreover, there is nothing to prevent an overseas student from never repaying their debt.

  • David Craig

    I deal with all the issues you mention in my book. But this is just a short summary article of 800 words so cannot cover as much ground as a 75,000-word book.

  • Stillreading

    Of course our youngsters are being conned! A basic Pass degree means almost nothing now, so de-valued has the system become. Even a First or a 2:1 Hons. doesn’t get you far unless it’s from Oxbridge or perhaps one of the Russell Group universities. Many employers are now looking for a BSc or BA in addition as evidence of intellectual ability. And not only are youngsters being lured into this life-long economic trap, they are being charged an outrageously high annual interest rate, way above Base Rate, compounded from Day One, by the Student Loan Companies. The hard truth is that the majority of these loans will never be repaid because the hundreds of thousands of graduates in meaningless subjects will never attain the earning bracket where repayment becomes automatic. No! The burden will fall on the relatively small percentage of graduates who WILL have worthwhile degrees. Those such as skilled IT programmers and developers, physicists, dentists, doctors, mathematicians. Student loan companies, with the complicity and consent of Governments of all or any colour, will seek to recoup from working graduates not only what those graduates themselves borrowed, but what remains outstanding from graduates who will never repay their loans. In the Brexit context we are constantly told that because of the UK’s low unemployment rate, we desperately need manual workers from overseas. Is it unacceptably subversive to suggest that 18 year olds who can manage to achieve only two Grade E’s at A Level, after 13 or 14 years of compulsory education, might be not only more gainfully, but also more happily, employed working practically in agriculture or hands-on under supervision in the care sector, than ratcheting up massive debts whilst achieving very little at “Uni”?

  • Roy Hartwell

    I left school in 1968 half way through my A-levels (another story, won’t waste time on it). I obtained a post as a scientific assistant in a government lab and my career progressed from there with both part-time study and experience in post. That was possible in those days ! I retired in 2011 leaving behind a large group I was responsible for which was something like 75% PhD level scientists ! In my time I interviewed many young people for posts and I noticed as the new Blair intakes started coming through, a serious drop in standards. Although these young people had ‘degrees’ they had absolutely no real knowledge or understanding of their subject. This contrasted with the ’80’s when many students took sandwich courses which meant they spent 6 – 12 months in industry and came out of Uni with real experience. Seems now they churn them out with maximum speed and minimum input just to benefit the Uni and not the individual. I do blame Blair and his ilk with their stupid ‘50% must go to Uni’ mantra. It has debased degrees totally.

  • A Thorpe

    This situation also tells us something about the undergraduates. Why can’t they see that is a big con? The entire country seems to be dumbing down. A good graph to show this might show expenditure on university education and the the trade deficit. They are going in opposite directions.

  • Stillreading

    Because, Thorpe, they’ve been conditioned in Leftie Libtard ideology since nursery school, they are incapable of independant thought, they are constantly told that education is their “right” rather than a privilege which many of we oldies would have relished at their age, and the only rigour they display, far from being intellectual, is the ability to maintain an approximately vertical posture as they stagger back to their Halls after an evening of over-indulgence in subsidized booze in the Union bar! While Far Eastern students (I am thinking particularly of Chinese and South Korean youngsters) are applying themselves diligently to their studies, preparing to take all the best-paid posts in the UK which the Visa system permits, the majority of our home-born lot are having “fun”.

  • Baroness Bonkers

    Just a thought.
    Isn’t it the case now that almost everything in the UK either doesn’t function properly, or is owned by foreigners, or is run by libturds,or is in a state of internal turmoil (thank you Mrs May for today’s disaster)?

    I have never got my head around why the fees for Oxford University are the are the same as the fees for some ex Polytechnic in a mill town.

    If that is correct then I am looking for a new Bentley for the price of an MOT failure. If anyone can help…..

  • Marco

    I earned my degree in 1976. A respectable 2:1 and it got me in on the ground floor. It was actually worth something. I did a part-time MA which pushed me up another couple of rungs. It was hard work and I had to hold down a low-paying job to keep body and soul together. But I did not have to pay massive tuition fees and I was debt-free with decent qualifications. I pity today’s student who has to take on a mountain of debt just to get their foot in the door.

    Higher education today is a racket worthy of the Mafia. If I were 18 today and had a bit of savvy, I’d learn a trade rather than go to university.

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