Opinion
5 Oct 2017 01:00pm

Debate: Is a university education still relevant in the modern professional workplace?

With increases to university fees now making a degree more expensive than ever, and the apprenticeship levy encouraging more alternative schemes across the country, is a higher education still a desirable choice?

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Caption: How important is a degree to a career?

Jo Johnson, the universities minister

“Young people are more likely to go to university than ever, with entry rates for 18-year-olds rising every year since 2012. We want technical education to stand side-by-side with traditional academic routes. We are reforming to allow people to choose a route that is right for them.”

Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation

“A university education is still the surest way to high-status, high salary jobs. However, the UK labour market is going through a period of significant change. It is likely we will see a trend away from universities to high-level apprenticeships.

“Research we commissioned from the Boston Consulting Group shows that someone who graduates from an average university earns less over a lifetime than a degree-level apprentice. This is because as a degree-level apprentice you earn while you learn, come out with no debt and have skills the marketplace wants.

“While a university education is unlikely to lose its value in the modern workplace, changes to the labour market – including high demand for digital skills such as coding – may allow vocational routes to become genuine alternatives to the traditional academic pathway.”

Sarah Stevens, head of policy at the Russell Group

“The introduction of measures like degree apprenticeships will help widen access to higher education and offer a different path to higher qualification. University courses are adapting to reflect advances in knowledge, helping ensure new industries can find the skilled workers they need. Russell Group universities provide a world-class education to more than 600,000 students at undergraduate and postgraduate level. These women and men are the doctors, engineers, scientists and accountants of tomorrow.”

Dr Diana Beech, director of policy and advocacy, Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI)

“Studying for a degree provides in-depth knowledge and expertise in a specific subject area. Going to university develops confidence and independence, and encourages valuable transferable skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, time management, self-discipline, effective communication and leadership – all essential for the professional workplace. These transferable skills give graduates the edge.

“Graduates are vital assets for employers, with their ready-made networks of highly-skilled peers and an appreciation of diversity and equality issues. It is no coincidence that degree apprenticeships are now evolving to enhance vocational training routes with some of these undoubted benefits of a university education.”

Stuart Rimmer, principal at East Coast College

“University is an expensive decision to make when there are so many other choices out there. Of course, with more options it does create a more complex decision – and there is often pressure for students to gallop into a career – but the main thing is that students, and parents, should look at all options and take their time”

Teresa Payne, partner and head of people at BDO

“In today’s professional workplace, experience and education continue to be important, but it’s the ability to identify and develop an individual’s potential that is crucial for employers.

“While a university education continues to be a respected entry route to work, many are now choosing an earlier path of learning and earning on-the-job. Both career paths can prove successful. This year we have taken on 360 new trainees at BDO – some are from university, others aren’t – our school leaver numbers are increasing each year.

“Employers must continue to open more doors for more people to ensure we create a dynamic and diverse workforce.

“It’s not just diversity that’s important, but the skills that people bring to the job. As technology and the demands of society evolve, professional services firms must adapt to create the adviser of the future to service the clients of tomorrow.”

Joshua Wyner, vice president of the College Excellence Program at the Aspen Institute

“A bachelor’s degree is worth, on average, nearly a million dollars more over a lifetime than only
a high school diploma.”

Jack Parsons, 23, founder and CEO of Yourfeed, an online platform connecting Millennials to employers

“There are lots of forward-thinking companies willing to hire young people for their real life-skills and talents, regardless of a degree.

“University is too accessible. Degrees have become devalued. Plus, university is not teaching skills that transfer to the marketplace. Students graduate with an average debt of £50,000, and that figure is set to rise. A degree is increasingly not worth the time and money.

“Employers have no way of picking out the brightest candidates. Instead, they’re looking at other skills outside of academic achievements, so, why bother with a degree? You do all your training when you start on a job anyway. Why waste three years of time and money beforehand?

“After leaving school I was told that I couldn’t take on a sales role as I didn’t have a degree. Offering my services for free I proved that you don’t need a degree to succeed. I had the belief that I was going to make something of myself, coupled with passion, a laptop and a strong work ethic. Now I’m a CEO and have just launched my business with £700,000 of backing. No degree necessary.”

Linda Emery, head of graduate recruitment, KPMG UK

“As a recruiter of over a thousand young people each year throughout the UK we strongly believe that a university degree is still highly relevant – but it is not the only route to a successful career.

“University enables students to build life skills. However, other routes into employment such as apprenticeships can lead to achievement of the same professional qualifications and equally satisfying career options.

“As a professional services firm the benefit we can bring our clients by attracting people from a variety of backgrounds is imperative to ensuring we can offer innovative and creative solutions. We place the same value on people entering our firm from all available routes.”

Xavier Niel, founder, École 42, an experimental coding university where talent and merit, not means, are the gateway to a quality technology education

“You’d see 300 or 400 students here at night... there are no teachers - this is a project-based school. You get no diploma.”

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