With an ever growing shortage of skilled workers, is it right that everyone should go to university?

The day that Tony Blair decided that 50% of young people should go to university seems a very long time ago now, but sadly it is still all too relevant.  ‘Sadly’ because the horrifying statistic that nearly 25% of all 21 year-olds who have a degree are unemployed just doesn’t seem to fit with his master plan. 

A recent study conducted by the Higher Education Careers Service Unit revealed that more than half of all British graduates are currently working in jobs that don’t require a degree.  Rather than the highly skilled workforce Blair envisaged earning decent wages in highly skilled jobs, we’ve ended up with something that’s mediocre at best. Naturally, having a greater number of highly educated people won’t correlate with a greater number of highly paid, professional jobs suddenly appearing: a glaringly obvious flaw in the logistics of this idea. The professional job market has always been limited (limited being the operative word) and will continue to be so. An increase in skilled workers won’t magically solve this.

Today, having a degree is, in many people’s eyes, a fast pass to getting a ‘good’ job and thus earning a good living wage.  Schools are perhaps partly responsible, with state and private establishments alike encouraging all of their A level students to go to university, with the assurance that it will land them a better standard of living in the long run. This questionable push towards university means a lack of effort to inform youngsters of the many feasible alternatives that they could instead set their sights on.

“Rather than the highly skilled workforce Blair envisaged earning decent wages in highly skilled jobs, we’ve ended up with something that’s mediocre at best”

And what are these alternatives?  Well, apprenticeships for a start.

Britain is currently experiencing its worst skills shortage for 30 years.  We are in desperate need of plumbers, engineers and builders, not to mention nurses and various other practical vocations.  Trade unions have warned that this decline has been caused by a decline in apprenticeships.  As such, there are 44,690 entrants needed per year to maintain the industry, and in 2013 there were only 7,280.  Yet we still parade university as the be all and end all.

It goes without saying that university isn’t for everyone, but unfortunately it seems to be a cliché that is commonly ignored by today’s society.  Instead of ignoring it, we should consider just that: everybody should not go to university.  Particularly if it’s to encumber a huge debt via a degree that isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.  The truth is that not all degrees are worth the same.  Despite what youngsters are led to believe when applying for university, a Wastes Management degree from the University of Northampton isn’t quite on the same level as a law degree from Oxford.

“The truth is that not all degrees are worth the same”

While the experience of leaving home and fending for oneself is of unquestionable importance, getting a degree isn’t the only viable way to do this, and it certainly shouldn’t stand in place of other post-school opportunities like apprenticeships.  University is about academic elitism, which isn’t a bad thing. The idea of higher education is surely to further academic achievements and pursue an area of study in which you’re most interested. It was never meant to be for everyone. Traditionally, university was for more academic students, a fact which has been lost in the plethora of leisure and tourism, fashion communication and youth studies degrees that have suddenly sprung up.  Rather than constantly reinforce the idea of a degree being the best way forward, we should place more emphasis on trades like plumbing and bricklaying and all the other jobs that actually keep this country standing.

Inevitably, this can only be achieved through a joint effort from schools, government schemes and perhaps businesses that will ultimately suffer if this decline in apprenticeships continues.  It is of pivotal importance that schools make a concerted effort to really make their students aware of every possible opportunity – academic and practical alike – and indeed the realities of what sort of life they will be able to forge afterwards, be that one of a struggling writer or an affluent plumber. Because, at the end of the day, you can’t fix a leaky pipe with a bit of paper.

Anna Hand

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