For the last few generations of students, there has been a predominant narrative that in order to achieve their goals or enter into socially desirable sectors, you need go to university. Indeed, a record 37.9 per cent of 18-year-olds are due to start university this September.
In 1992, the number of students was half what it is now. The degree was less common and therefore more impressive. It was rightfully targeted at the people who were truly interested in academia and indeed were talented in it. But as more and more people are going to university, the system is becoming dangerously saturated. Those who don’t have a particular interest in academia, (as their A-level results will attest) are going to these institutions just because they’ve been told to; because what else would they do?
It almost became a prevalent social stigma that if you didn’t go to university, you have no hope. But as the university student bubble grows, it must eventually burst. It costs £9,250 a year for around 18 weeks of lectures (most only have 6 contact hours a week), and that’s when the professors are not on strike. People are beginning to ask: is this really good value for money and time?
The answer is: probably yes, if you are passionate about your degree and it really will help you in your career, and probably not, if you’re in it for the booze and because society tells you you have to.
And yet, even if the answer is yes, a degree is not all it used to be. It used to be the case that nearly all high-wage services required one, but now fewer and fewer firms are asking for them. Most investment banks don’t require them, and even companies like Apple and Google say that it’s not necessary for many positions, instead providing their own form of education programmes such as the six month Google Career Certificates programme.
However, the real worry that a lot of students have is the horrendous debt that will loom over their heads for decades. For the government, three quarters of students will never pay it off – it’s a financial lose-lose situation. Although these points seem sound enough to put off any student from going to university, so far they are still flocking to the degrees like moths to a flame. Perhaps because the prevailing thought is that there’s not a better option.
However, what could be the nail in the coffin for universities is the news that Multiverse, an apprenticeship provider founded by Euan Blair, has been granted degree-awarding powers.
Multiverse matches young people with relevant training schemes while also matching them with jobs at companies from MasterCard to Rolls Royce. Effectively, this will provide a debt-free degree, meaning that young people will spend less time and money on achieving goals to enter desirable careers. Multiverse has already gained attraction among young people, but now with the idea that one can get that much loved ‘degree’ from an apprenticeship provider (and Multiverse won’t be the only one to do this), young people may divert to these schemes instead of the traditional and over-subscribed universities.
The university chancellors on six-figure salaries may be distressed to hear this, but the truth is, we need to cut back on how many young people go to university. Opening up the market to schemes like Multiverse is crucial to providing the economy with fresh young workers who’ve gained the skills necessary for their particular career path.
The government should not hand out student loans as easily as they do today. It’s harming the reputation of university, not helping young people truly achieve their goals, and is creating an unnecessary financial burden on the taxpayer as well as the students.
Apprenticeship providers like Multiverse may well be the final push to make young people realise university is not the be all and end all, and perhaps this university boom will finally crash.