Higher education is expensive whichever way you look at it. By the time you graduate you’ve paid fees and stumped up living costs for three years or more and you leave, not just with your degree but potentially with a hefty amount of debt too.
No one can underestimate the importance of education, but according to figures from the Institute of Fiscal Studies, students are leaving university with more than £50,000 debt on average. With any luck you’ll enter a well-paid graduate job and start to pay back the money you borrowed. But given the levels of debt you can experience and the length of time it can take to pay that money back, is your degree really worth it?
The rising cost of a degree
Tuition fees were first introduced in 1998 by Tony Blair’s Labour government. At the same time maintenance grants were replaced with loans. The aim was to expand student admissions and create more opportunities for people to go to university, which it has done with almost half of young people entering higher education. But is more necessarily better?
Since they were introduced, fees have risen from £1,000 a year to the current capped amount of £9,250 a year. Students can take out loans to cover the cost of fees and living expenses and don’t have to pay those back until they have graduated and are earning over £25,000 a year. In practice, it means many students are leaving higher education with nearly £28,000 in tuition fee debt alone. And, because more students than ever before have degrees there are now more jobs than ever that require a degree where a generation ago you wouldn’t have needed one.
However, there are degrees that offer great value for money and different institutions set their own rates so it pays to shop around. At GSM London, for example, tuition fees are up to 33% less with annual rates of £6,000 – £8,000 a year. Taking an accelerated two-year degree can also save students money – they only pay two years of fees and living costs, still graduate with a valued degree and start earning a year earlier than those on a traditional three-year course.
The good and the bad degrees
There are hundreds of degrees to choose from and a university degree is often cited as essential if you want a lucrative career later on. Indeed, figures point to graduates earning up to £250,000 more over the course of their working lifetime than those who never made it to university. The long term value of some degrees and their resulting earning potential is clear. But not all degrees are created equal.
While degrees such as an LLB (Hons) Law are a springboard to a well-paid career in law and a BSc (Hons) Accounting and Finance or BSc (Hons) Marketing are well-recognised in business, there are plenty more which have questionable value. Degrees such as studio arts, performing arts, fashion design and communications are ones often highlighted. It’s not necessarily that the subject is bad, the teaching minimal or poor value for money but more a case of there are quicker, cheaper and alternative ways of entering some professions than three or more expensive years at university. Bottom line – your money could sometimes be better spent elsewhere.
Take fashion for example, which is fiercely competitive and demand for jobs outstrips supply. No degree can teach artistic talent and you might be better off building a superb portfolio and networking like mad to get to know the people who can eventually offer you a job.
How do I make sure my degree has long term value?
Perceived value is subjective and what one person holds in high regard, another might dismiss out of hand. That being said, there are many degrees which are considered “worthy” and can lead to a well-paid career after graduation. You just need to know which one to pick.
You can look at the obvious indicators such as the actual cost of the degree, your contact time and the employability statistics upon graduation but it’s also a good idea to really dig deep and look at the type of skills a degree can give you. Accounting will equip you with knowledge about bookkeeping, balance sheets and taxation but it will also give you lots of transferable skills such as communication, problem-solving and methodical reasoning which are all sought after across a wide range of professions.
In addition, it’s a good idea to check out any links your chosen university or higher education establishment might have with businesses which can boost your chance of getting a great job when you leave.
Whatever you do decide, it’s important to consider all your options and look, not just at your current situation, but where you want to be when you graduate and beyond. Will a degree really help you get there or is there a better route into your chosen profession?
We would like to hear from you if you have any questions about what degree you should choose. You can call us on 020 3797 4687 or find more here.