Posted by: aboutalbion | December 13, 2012

Higher education crisis …?

At the same time as a housing crisis (7 December post), the UK is seeing a higher education crisis.  Intimations of it are given by official 2012 student admissions statistics released today showing that demand for higher education places has weakened – and, incidentally, that females are significantly more likely to seek higher education than males.

Current and future cohorts of undergraduates now have to take out loans that could total around £50,000 to finance 3 or 4 years of first degree study (unless asset-rich relations can sponsor them).  The decades allowed for repayment may well mean that around £100,000 is needed to clear this debt. (‘Independent on Sunday’ report last Sunday)

Is it worth it?  If the link between the possession of a degree award and an above-average income is being weakened, then there are reasonable grounds for many 18 year-olds to have second thoughts about ‘going to Uni’.

18 year-olds will be told that not every degree has the same market value.  There are claims that some degrees do not have the academic content normally expected of a degree.  Graduates with these degrees are unlikely to experience the earnings boost they may have come to expect.

18 year-olds will hear reports from this summer’s graduates that the traditional employers of graduates receive scores of applications for each vacancy, and that one way of filtering these applicants is to demand a first-class degree (or possibly at least a 2:1).  The effect of the global recession means that many current graduates start their working lives in non-graduate positions.

Not every rewarding job requires a degree.  18 year-olds may find out that you don’t need to go to university to have a career in, say, accountancy, the law, retail management, the police, or air traffic control.  It may well be the case that a degree will help to develop a career in these areas, but degree study (and the associated campus experience) can be followed part-time and later while in employment (or on secondment).

I expect the rising cost of higher education to deter some school leavers from going straight to university.

When the higher education crisis is put alongside the housing crisis, I think it is fair to say that the ladders of opportunity for young people in the UK to secure a sustainable middle class career are getting fewer and longer at the same time.

Putting it another way, the expectation that the next generation will be better educated and better paid than their parents will need adjusting.

Young people, non-graduates and graduates alike, are finding it difficult (if not impossible) to save enough money for the deposit required to enter the owner-occupier housing market.  Renting levels are at record highs.

If the housing crisis alone has the potential to lead to social unrest, then I find that the combined housing crisis and higher education crisis has a greater potential for social unrest.

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