Have I Just Wasted Three Years Of My Life At Uni?
The Debrief: A report was published revealing that just fewer than 60% of graduates in the UK work non-graduate jobs. So were the last three years a total waste of time?
At this time of year, images of mortarboards, new Topshop dresses cloaked in gowns a sad shade of grey and triumphant grins on the faces of students surrounded by family fill our Facebook feed. We ex-graduates smile knowingly – we were there. A year ago, two years ago, five years ago and we understand those emotions: glee, exhaustion, accomplishment, slight disappointment at the anti-climactic-ness of it all.
There may be a very small part of your consciousness that’s taken up with the debt you’ve now got to begin paying back, but it’s only a teeny tiny part. You’ve just drained your brain capacity for an 8,000-word dissertation forgodsake.
Despite graduating from university a year ago, I experienced mixed emotions about my arts degree halfway through. There was no longer a question as to whether university fees were going to rise and though I just missed having to pay £9,000, it was hard to ignore the constant topic of chatter: was university even worth it anymore?
A report was published revealing that just fewer than 60% of graduates in the UK work in non-graduate jobs. This is a problem because employers are using degree qualifications as part of the screening process for jobs that don’t require a university education. By making it harder for young people to apply for jobs – only allowing 2:1s and/or 1:1s – doesn’t mean the skill needed for the job will be enhanced. In fact, those skills are being wasted and it means that those who do have the expertise and didn’t go to uni are missing out.
With the government estimating that 45% of graduates will not earn enough to repay their student loans, this is no longer a sustainable situation.
Peter Cheese, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) who published the report, said: ‘We need to start a national debate about how to generate more high-skilled jobs’ and that choosing an apprenticeship over university is a ‘much better choice’.
He might be onto something; I have a friend who undertook a plumbing apprenticeship 18 months ago and he’s currently earning double what I earn and loves it.
Reflecting on my decision to go to university to study English Literature, I don’t regret it. I count myself extremely lucky that I had the delicious privilege of studying something I enjoyed for three years with no responsibilities. It was a bubble – of socialising, study and steady transformation – far removed from reality that I will never experience again. That being said, there was so much unutilised time during my degree (only 10 hours contact time) that for £9,000 it’s a costly privilege I wouldn’t have found so easy to revel in.
Going to university was never set in stone for me. I’m actually quite certain I wouldn’t have gone had I not been told ‘You’ll never get a job here unless you have a degree’ by a woman I was working with two days into my work experience at a respected interiors magazine aged 16. The Devil Wears Prada was my favourite film at the time and working at a glossy magazine was my dream, so you can imagine the effect those words had. It was like a switch went off in my head.
And besides, it felt like university was the only option and the accepted, well-trodden route. Cheese stressed that ‘Efforts need to be redoubled to ensure young people… can access good quality careers information, advice and guidance so they can make better-informed decisions.’ As someone who attended a school that was only interested in getting students into Oxbridge, I couldn’t agree more.
Fortunately, my parents instilled in me from a young age that I needed to have as much experience as I did education so both before and during my undergraduate years I interned whenever possible. I got real-world experience and built up a CV that gave me something to talk about in interviews post-graduation.
Very few people have ever asked about my degree. It may have got me through the screening process, but it’s my other work experience that employers quiz me on. In fact, more than anything, interviewers have wanted to know if I have any skills in things like Photoshop and HTML.
If I had my time again I’d study something practical like coding. I can still learn that now, but I wish there had been more emphasis on the importance of technology and our part to play in that when I was in sixth form. While I feel nostalgic for ‘the way things were’, I envy the younger generation who are computer literate by the age of five. They’re going to blow us millennials out of the water.
Literature may have provided me with great dinner party material but I don’t believe it’s the key to my success. I don’t need a degree for the job I’m doing now and I know that three years of hard work (and no university) could have gotten me to where I am now – if not further.
Of course, achieving that would have come down to other factors: knowing the right people, networking, luck, but then those are the things I’ve had to take advantage of, and seek out, even with a degree. It wouldn’t have been easy, but it was and is undeniably doable.
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