The latest rise in tuition fees have led potential students to reassess whether or not a university education is worth the price tag. Some are wondering whether attending the ‘University of Life’ – by which they mean bypassing formal education and diving headfirst into the world of work – could be a better way of providing them with the education they need to succeed in the future.
So is a university education losing its value, and if so, is there anything that can be done to change that?
A lifetime of debt vs. a head start on the career ladder
One of the statistics that is used to entice potential students to sign up to university is the fact that graduates, on average, earn around $100,000 more over the course of their lifetime than someone who hasn’t gone to university.
However, this statistic is from a time when most people that had the opportunity to go to university took it without giving it a second thought. There was no debate about whether a university education was valuable so the brightest and most able people always went when given the chance.
This statistic also had more impact before the introduction of $9,000 a year university fees. Even a three-year course will now leave graduates with $27,000 worth of debt. When you add on maintenance loans the $100,000 extra you should earn over your lifetime, if indeed it still exists, is practically halved.
On the other hand, people that put off going to university in favor of working can start earning straight away. If they do eventually reach a point in their career where a lack of formal education is preventing them from progressing there’s nothing stopping them from taking a course on a part time basis while they continue working.
Of course there are certain circumstances where a university education is arguably invaluable. If you intend to have a career as a doctor or lawyer for example a university degree is essential.
Meanwhile, it’s still the case at the moment that many of the top CEOs are university educated. Whether that will change in the future is up for debate, but potential students with serious ambition may believe that the easiest way to get to the top is still on the back of a university degree.
Not all degrees are equal
It’s dangerous to talk about the value of a ‘university education’ without acknowledging that not all universities and not all courses are the same. An employer may value a degree from a particular institution much more than a degree from a less established university.
Now that universities are charging higher fees it’s vital that they put more money into teaching and developing their students. They can do this by increasing contact hours with tutors rather than cutting them for example, and investing in ways to ensure their graduates will be well equipped for the world of work. Only by taking steps to ensure that students value a university education will employers and society in turn believe that a university education has value.
This post was written on behalf of OCVC.