Opinion

Kids have a warped sense of reality about what degrees will provide them

6 min read

22 November 2017

When I was a kid, there was an air of exclusivity that came with having a degree, much of which came from the fact that they were only accessible to well-off families who could afford to send their children to university.

Now, degrees are far more accessible, but universities have continued to play on that reputation to become seemingly invincible institutions.

Not only do kids still have a warped sense of reality, where getting degrees is the only way to get anywhere in life, but universities are trying to bend the truth to get them there in the first place.

I’m not tarring all universities with the same brush, our country has some obvious, famous institutions that help some students get a ticket to a high pay grade from the get-go.

But this is now the exception and not the rule.  For far too long, universities have gotten away with promising impressionable, prospective students the earth, without actually backing up their claims in any way shape or form.

Perhaps though, their luck as money-grabbing organisations, creating crazy debts of up to a staggering £50,000 for their students, is about to run out.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has forced six major universities to remove their current marketing campaigns, on the basis that they could be misleading. Leicester, East Anglia, Strathclyde, Falmouth, Teesside and the University of West London, have all had major complaints made against them, upheld by the ASA.

The University of Strathclyde bragged about its physics department being “number one in the UK”, whilst Teesside University claimed to be the “top university in England for long-term graduate prospects”. The University of East Anglia is apparently in the “top five for student satisfaction” and, as they say, the list goes on.

Chief executive of the ASA, Guy Parker, has said students need all the facts when making such a huge financial decision about degrees and their future. We’re definitely drinking from the same teapot when he says that “misleading would-be students is not only unfair, it can also lead them to make choices that aren’t right for them”.

These institutions have been banned from making similar, bogus claims in the future, and from now on there will be guidelines in place. Finally, there’s some recognition that universities aren’t executing the most honest of operations – but I haven’t believed that since the fee cap was removed and everyone jumped at the chance to charge a fortune for higher education.

It’s certainly a step in the right direction, but there’s still a long way to go. So many people are being coerced into taking a university route without considering other options like apprenticeships. But what do many have to show for it?

The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) has been tracking graduate outcomes and reckons that for those who left in the 2015 university year, 48 per cent ended up in non-graduate jobs six months on.

Author of the report, Lizzy Crowley, says that 77 per cent of students will not pay their loans back in full. Her organisation wants universities in the UK to be unable to charge the full amount back in loans, unless they can offer better results for the graduates paying for them.

Lizzy has hit the nail on the head. There’s been too much focus on taking in and churning students back out again, like an endless conveyor belt. There’s little regard for students walking back out of their doors, into jobs that in reality aren’t waiting for them on the other side after completing degrees.

Why aren’t more young people choosing to earn-whilst-you-learn on an apprenticeship, where you get money on the job learning the basics, and at the end, guess what? A full qualification, zero debt and of course, more chance of a job, with employers crying out for skilled and workplace-ready people.

The fact is, universities have been misleading students for years. They sell the dream of a good life to those that perhaps don’t have anything lined up when they leave school. So many are successful in becoming a graduate, but plenty end up working in a role they could’ve gained without degrees.

We need to allow young people to decide on their future without fear or favour, but in order for this to happen, they need to be armed with the facts. This includes the long-term, career-focused benefits of practical, vocational learning.

But if university is the chosen option for a young person, it should mean better quality degrees where they get what they pay for, and no more shoddy advertisements with lies that could actually play a part in a costly decision that will impact negatively on someone’s future.

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