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Does the UK need fewer graduates?

08:42 UK time, Tuesday, 9 March 2010

The government target of getting 50% of people under 30 into higher education should be scrapped, the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) has said. What do you think?

The AGR also wants a phased increase in student top-up fees by 2020, with safeguards for disadvantaged families. AGR's chief executive Carl Gilleard said the proposals would help "reaffirm the value of a degree".

The lecturers' University and College Union said it was disappointed by the recommendations. Its general secretary Sally Hunt said: "The future for the UK is at the forefront of a high-skilled knowledge economy and we won't get there with less graduates."

Are you a lecturer, graduate or recruiter? Has having a degree helped or hindered you? What do you think of the association's proposals? Should the government target be scrapped?

<strong>This debate has now been closed. Thank you for your comments.</strong>


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  • Comment number 1.

    Quick, lets get 50% of people into higher education! Even if they're clueless about the proper academic subjects, we can make up silly new courses to put them on!

  • Comment number 2.

    Take it all back 20 years. About 5% of school leavers went to (proper) university. Those number of graduates were sustainable. Its not fair that some newer Universities build the hopes of young people up with false promises of a better life after they graduate. The reality is that some degrees are not worth the paper they are written on.

  • Comment number 3.

    According to the article, the AGR wants:

    1) Fewer courses = less tax burden for its members.

    2) Higher top-up fees, paid for by the student = less tax burden for its members.

    3) Tax breaks for companies employing graduates = less tax burden for its members.

    Hmm. I see a pattern here...

    Why can't they just be honest and say "we want to pay less tax".

  • Comment number 4.

    "The future for the UK is at the forefront of a high-skilled knowledge economy and we won't get there with less graduates."

    Sally Hunt is wrong. High skilled knowledge has to be acquired through study and hard graft, not given on a plate for turning up to study a no-subject at a former technical college specialising in performing farce. Degrees are now so dummed down that how can perspective employers guarantee their staff are adequately qualified to perform the tasks they require to be performed. I am sick of so called engineers being unable to do anything more than punch keys on a computer. Computers can't fix what is broken, they can only suggest a solution. It requires an analytical mind and dexterity to perform the tasks suggested. Even astronauats still have to space walk, computers can't fix.

  • Comment number 5.

    A bit of a no-brainer. All it's done is to water down degrees; if 50% of jobs had required graduates then there may have been some point to it.

  • Comment number 6.

    Yes, university should be for the academically elite, not for just anyone. It used to be that the top 10% went to university.

    If 50% of school-leavers go to university, that means that only the average or better will go (by definition). In fact, it may be the 'less than average or better' since many intelligent people won't go to university.

    Also, 50% of jobs don't need a degree. So, all the people who get an unnecessary degree are doing is starting their working life with a bundle of unnecessary debt.

    Of course university & college lecturers will want more students to go - that will give them more jobs!

    Also, if fewer go to university, then it will mean that the government has more chance of funding those who are unable to fund themselves. This will mean that university attendance is based more on ability to do the work, rather than ability to pay for it.

  • Comment number 7.

    Under Nu Labour and to a certain extent the previous Tory government, degrees have slowly become more and more meaningless, devalued and "Away" from what the country needs. The accent has been on giving the student a degree, almost as a must, whatever happens. Thus, successive governments claim wonderful success rates and assure us that the edcuatiion system is in fine fettle. It isn't. It is in the worst state it has ever been in. Would it not be sensible for the education system to cater for the countrys needs, present and future? All this arty stuff is fine and dandy (A degree in DANCING?) but we need to get back to manufacturing, inventing and innovating, all things we were once good at. And we need to do it very very soon

  • Comment number 8.

    The 50% target is yet another example of poorly thought out figures the government was trying to hit to prove they have been a success. In reality like many other targets instead of producing 50% of the population who are smart enough to pass a degree, the quality of a degree has reduced until it encompases 50%. The same is happening with GCSE's and A-Levels.

    I look forward to a return to the situation of 10% of pupils get an A grade in exams and only the best go to University. This will reduce the amount students need to pay as they wont be helping to fund vocational courses which are masquerading as degrees.

  • Comment number 9.

    I would say that there is a yes and no answer to this question. Graduates in the traditional degrees which will be beneficial to the country should be encouraged but those taking the easier "Waffle" degrees in stupid minority interest subjects should be reduced.

  • Comment number 10.

    What's a degree for, anyway?

    If you know exactly what you want to do in the world of work, other forms of training may be more appropriate. Of course, for some careers a degree is an appropriate starting point, or at least can be helpful.

    However, unless you have a burning thirst for knowledge, a degree is not the best route. If you want to acquire vocational skills for your chosen career, look carefully for where to obtain them... and especially for routes where you can earn while training, or even get the training via an employer.

    Yep, I got mine in the late 1970s, and to be honest all I had was that thirst for knowledge - no clue as to what I'd do with it... and I have ended up in a completely different profession to my degree subject. (If you are curious, the degree was in botany and I am now a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society!)

    What I got from the degree was the ability to learn for myself, to research, to find out. Detailed information about plants nowadays is only useful on walks when my daughter asks me about something growing! She's freaked out when I'm driving and can still tell her what's growing in the hedgerow. But whatever the subject, I'm good at finding out what I want to know... skills I acquired back as an undergraduate.

  • Comment number 11.

    We need more graduates with degrees that are relevant to their careers, not just graduates who have taken a random course for the sake of having a degree.

  • Comment number 12.

    Not really, what the UK really 'needs' is an economy which can provide more graduate level employment! The question should be, how can our economy provide enough meaningful roles for an 'intelligent' population? As it is - our country has appox 29m 'jobs' most of which do not require any 'intelligence'at all. 8m of which are part-time 'opportunities' Over 6m are in the Public Sector (many mindless NON jobs there). Our population is now over 62m! You do the mathematical calculations!

    What we actually 'need' is industry and innovation! It would be nice to see our Government and those lovely 'industry leaders' do something constructive for once and 'create' meaningful productive opportunities instead of relying on the destructive capabilities of global capitalism! They could at least, free the intelligence of the population to go out and create their own opportunities, give them the necessary freedoms to use their creative talents to build meaningful productive businesses! But - no - that will not happen - because those running the show - have no imagination, no wish to loose their control and no desire to set intelligence free!

  • Comment number 13.

    Quality not quantity!

    We don't need armies of media studies, David Beckham Studies or film studies graduates. To get us out of this economic mess we need engineers, doctors and chemists.

    If we insist on creating armies of graduates with lightweight degrees, we will only succeed in dumbing down the population, creating more none producive "management" posts and slipping further behind the developing world.

    We have to get a grip and start investing in our intellectual seed corn or we'll all be working in garden centres and hedge funds before you know it.

  • Comment number 14.

    You often hear people say there are too many graduates but as an employer, I'm afraid the opposite is true. The more university trained people we have, the better.

  • Comment number 15.

    We need graduates with qualifications that actually mean something. Too many graduates obtain degrees without actually doing much which devalues the worth of the degree for those who actually deserve them.
    We are now in the position where degrees are the required qualification, especially for the public services, for even rather menial jobs which the person holding the degree is ill prepared to carry out and may have expectations greater than their abilities.
    The reduction by business of apprenticeships and in house training means that progression is stiffled so people who know the job don't progress whilst academically qualified but incompetent people are placed in charge which results in business suffering in the long term.
    Academic qualifications are only useful if they are relevant to the workplace and are a mark of knowledge, ability and willingness to work hard.
    So higher education should be open and available to all on the basis of mental or physical ability (depending on the sbject) not the ability to pay. The eventual qualification should then reflect their abilities not just their attendance at a particular establishment.

  • Comment number 16.

    This has always been a ridiculous initiative. There is a very simple question - how many jobs REQUIRE higher education before people can accomplish the tasks in the job? I'd be shocked if it's anywhere near 50%.

    All this scheme has done is:
    - Encourage mickey mouse courses such as David Beckham studies
    - Put strain on higher education funds
    - Reduced the quality of education available to everyone
    - Wasted money on loans that will never be repaid (students are the new sub-prime!)
    - Devalorised degrees that used to be worth something - not just in the UK, but abroad.

    We should be driving towards a meritocracy where the only target is whether someone is GOOD ENOUGH.

  • Comment number 17.

    We need more physics, Maths, Geography, Engineering, Medical, Accounting, History, Languages - French, German, Dutch and any other relevant degree useful to the society.
    However we do NOT need media studies, golf management, Lap dancing and any other less rigorous degree that is not useful to the society. It sounds harsh but it is the truth.
    In short we need graduates/courses with academic rigour and a reasonable amount of intelligence to earn a degree and not the BOGOF degrees that some uninversities offers to boost their funding.

  • Comment number 18.

    50% of people gaining a university education is an aspiration and only truly achieveable (with a good standard of degree course) if our children are being properly educated at primary and secondary level. So, while I am trying to understand both sides of this argument, it seems falacious at present. Universities have "dumbed down" courses to meet targets and now employ more lecturers than ever - and of course these people don't want to be made redundant. If we got our act together at primary level, starting children a little later in age and really ensuring they understood the basics (like how to spell properly and how to add two numbers) then our children would be ready to enjoy a full and rounded secondary education that would then, for many, lead on to a challenging and worthwhile university career. But we need to start at the beginning and get that right, not set targets that sound good but achieve nothing.

  • Comment number 19.

    I studied law at University and graduated last July. The one thing I noticed was the amount of people who were only at University because they felt they 'should' be there. University is tough, if you don't want to be there you will struggle to get through. As a result there was a high number of drop-outs in my first and second year.

    A-level students are made to feel like failures by their teachers if they do not apply. My brother is athletic and wanted to pursue a career in coaching rather than academia, but during his final year of A-levels he was constantly made to feel like he was stupid and had failed in school.

    As a result of the stupidly number of high graduates and non-degrees, my partner (also a law graduate) has only just managed to find a job since graduating in July - which isn't even a graduate level post. 3 years, £20,000 and he was consistently told he didn't have enough experience - he would have been in a better position had he used those three years to gain experience!

    Academia is not for everyone. Some people are book worms, others prefer a more practical approach. Unfortunately the latter are considered less valuable which is completely wrong. The government cannot force everyone down the same path, we are all different and the education system must support that. There is a difference between giving everyone equal opportunities and forcing them to be the same.

  • Comment number 20.

    What is wanted is a larger number of students capable of doing and achieving good quality worthwhile PhDs in science and technology and then for there to be a good supply of money and facilities for them to carry out further research, both pure and applied in both public and commercial facilities. Then we need a succession of governments ensuring that the rest of us get back to real work (not the bureaucratic stuff) making use of the results of all this new knowledge.

  • Comment number 21.

    I suggest it rather depends upon the quality and usefulness of the degree. This Labour Government inceased university places as a ploy to reduce unemployment statistics. The trouble is many of the newly created universities are offering 'worthless' courses and degrees that aren't worth the paper on which they are written. If this proposal means sorting out the wheat from the chaff, I am totally in favour.

  • Comment number 22.

    The targets should not be scapped.The problem is that organizations like the CBI fear an educated workforce that has the ability to question and not accept the "dikat" of so calle4d business leaders. Business in this country only sees the short term,a quick profit ,declare themselves insolvent and start up again afresh. When business begins to understand that an educated workforce is not a threat but an asset,then we will be able to go forward.

  • Comment number 23.

    I have mixed feelings about this one. First I teach in a University, so cutting the number of students would put my job at risk, however the simple truth is that in the past when the number of graduates was much smaller, getting a degree almost guaranteed a decent job. Now with so many getting to University it does not. Put simply there is nothing special about being a graduate now. The other problem with Government targets to increase the number of people with University education, is that this desire does not increase the number of people either intelligent enough or motivated enough to benefit from higher education. Sadly I see a worryingly high percentage of my students as being totally unsuited for a degree programme (and I teach Medical students). Government tampering with the A-Level system means it is almost impossible for Universities to detect which applicants are suitable and which are not. The year on year 'improvement' in both GCSE and A-Level results is a biological impossibility, school kids are not getting smarter, and teachers are not getting better. The exams are getting easier!

  • Comment number 24.

    Well considering there are already thousands without a job it either states that:

    1. There is not enough jobs for the graduates that are coming out of University;

    2. People are going to University and doing degrees of no use to industry and companies aren't interested in hiring any more people with degrees in a soft skills subjects and having to spend money to train them up and then realising they were useless in the first place.

    It is sad but true, all companies now want usually at least a 2.1, if not a 1st.

  • Comment number 25.

    Having a degree these days is not worth the paper it is written on. The company I work for has staff with degrees stuffing envelopes in the post room. 3 years at Uni to basically start from the bottom and work your way. Exactly as did but without all the pointless qualifications. I also think that the exams have been made easier to ensure the governemnt targets are met.

  • Comment number 26.

    Yes scrap it. It is a ridiculous target.50% into "higher" education means, by definition degrees for all those with an IQ of 100 or over. How on earth can this be "higher" education. The best it is, is FURTHER education. "Graduates" with an IQ of 100 won't get and shouldn't think they deserve a premium salary in the job market. This ridiculous target was promulgated by the ridiculous Labour government under which we suffer. I by the way, am a graduate with a first class degree in the sciences, born of poor parents with NO academic qualifications, so feel I can make this comments quite freely without being accused of being one of the so called "privileged few"

  • Comment number 27.

    If you set targets - you start to influenec behaviour and it's normally for the worse. Look what happened at Stafordshire NHS Trust ! They pursued targets to the extent that people died !

    Setting targets for people entering University will have the consequence of lowering the quality of University degrees simply because no University will want to admit to a lower precentage of admitted graduates achieving quality degrees.

    What will happen is that the cost of the courses will rise until it is the same as quality Universities in America (and soon China as well), the quality will decrease, students will see this and prefer to study abroad (after all - the cost is will be the same) and British Universities will become second or third class instituions. At which point the Left will say 'What happened ?'

  • Comment number 28.

    If fewer means better, then presumably none at all will lead to Britain being the best educated country in the world. Why not take the idea to extremes and offer only Reading, Writing and Arithmetic in schools, with a tiny percentage, say 5%, being given anything more advanced. so as to keep up the value of a fuller education than can be obtained by the basics. This is hardly the way to keep up in an increasingly complex and competitive world. We may disagree as to how it is done, but there can be no doubt that education is essential, and educational goals are unlikely to be reached through denying full access to as high an educational level as possible.

  • Comment number 29.

    Of course they should.

    This policy of a 50% target was doomed from the start, all it has done is lower the standards of students, make most degrees not worth the paper they are written on and undermine the education system.

    Student numbers should be limited and take up should be based on results. To make it a level playing field this would require the funding of university places to be provided by central government not by individual students.

    Scrap student loans.
    Reduce the number of courses
    Reduce the number of students
    Make a degree something to be proud of again.
    Make a degree a sign of excellence

    If the government want to increase the school leaving age to 23 then they should do just that

    Then have further education for the most eligible

  • Comment number 30.

    No, we need more quality jobs for graduates to fill instead of wasting their time working in shops and warehouses!

  • Comment number 31.

    Standards of literacy and numeracy are in steady decline in the U.K. GCSE's get easier by the year; how else could pass rates improve year-on-year, it is statisically impossible. More and more Universities are insisting on foundation courses for students lacking in basic skills. The bottom line is that the more people there are in full-time education, the fewer are officially unemployed. The bonus for the government is that they have produced a generation of poorly-educated wretches unable to think for themselves and less likely to question anything they are told.

  • Comment number 32.

    A degree is at best, a discipline, & a graduate is someone who has successfully applied himself/herself to a form of mental & intellectual exercise. That will stand them in good stead in whatever fields of endeavour they apply themselves. A degree is therefore something worth pursuing.

  • Comment number 33.

    It's not the number that is important - it's the quality. The suspicion is that there are two issues :-
    1. In order to get more graduates, the entry criteria has been dumbed down.

    2. The ability of the university system to provide the same high quality education and research facilities to such a high intake.

  • Comment number 34.

    It's good to know that having just spent 4 years(2 months to go) studying as a mature student, at great expense to my wife and children, that my Honours degree in Engineering is being talked worthless by business. By continously attacking students and their education they are affecting us all. Its true that some people should not be at University but whose fault is that? Who got rid of the apprentices ? Who demands higher qualifications than necessary for many jobs? AGR are hypocrites.

  • Comment number 35.

    There is no need to have targets, everyone who might benefit should go to university. We cannot afford to waste any potential talent.

    University tuition should be free for all students who have been educated exclusively at state schools and bursaries, not loans, for living expenses should be provided for those students who need them. This is vital investment in the future for all of us.

    Those children whose parents have opted for private education should continue to be private students at university and pay the full economic cost of their courses. It is not acceptable that students trained at private schools, should be allowed to take the lion's share of publicly funded places at universities.

  • Comment number 36.

    Who will benefit the country more another 100,000 Media Studies Graduates or another 100 plumbers? More to the point how many of those Media Studies Graduates with huge student loans they cannot repay will end up retraining as plumbers because there are no graduate jobs for them?

    Labour may want to fight the old class wars by devaluing the University System to the point where it is a "Degree Mill" where qualifications have little meaning but it is not the "Upper Class" that get hurt, they simply go abroad to Universities that are still respected, it is the country as a whole that gets hurt. By making degrees too widely available and too easy to get they degrade our Universities to the level of 6th form colleges and degrees to an expensive but valueless scrap of paper/parchment.

    Bring back rigorous academic testing for universities, bring back colleges for high level but none degree qualifications. Bring back Technical Colleges for the none academics among us.

    Bring back an education system that is designed to benefit the students and the country as a whole rather than one that caters to the prejudices of the neaderthalic class warriors and the failed policies of the "one size fits all" fools and politicians.

  • Comment number 37.

    Scrapping the Government target of fifty per cent graduates is long overdue.
    It is perfectly correct that the value of anything decreases with availability, hence a degree being a minimum requirement for many jobs that did not need one a generation ago.
    In order to cram more people into the higher education system the various Universities and Colleges have generated huge numbers of ‘Mickey Mouse’ degrees. How many media studies graduates do we need? Taking three years to read the newspapers and watch TV and you are bound to be a much more useful member of society – assuming that you can get a job with the BBC, ITV, Ch4 or Sky.
    We actually need to redress the balance in our society between those going into the academic arena and those learning practical skills, such as joinery and plumbing. If you need a plumber or electrician in this country, you will probably find that the tradesman that comes to your door is domiciled in Eastern Europe.
    Plans to allow for increases in top-up fees are bound to be politically unpopular because they will be seen as a hindrance to the holy grail of social mobility. As we live in the 51st State, perhaps it is time to accept that the free market ideology of the other fifty States is the way to go.

  • Comment number 38.

    Targets should be scrapped altogether . This govt are great at setting targets, just look what targets have done to the NHS.

  • Comment number 39.

    "The future for the UK is at the forefront of a high-skilled knowledge economy and we won't get there with less graduates." Yes you will, what percentage of the population do you need with degrees to run this economy?

    In any society there have to be a mixture of technical, artistic and intellectual skills, together with those who provide the unskilled labour - the classic "hewers of wood and drawers of water" (though not as cursed servants as in the original biblical context, Joshua 9:23). And there's nothing wrong with honest manual labour, someone has to fetch, carry, clean etc provided they are not exploited. There is even a lack of skilled tradesmen, as this is seen as not being as prestigious as a degree. It's one of the reasons we have so many eastern European immigrants / migrant workers beloved of the ranters on HYS.

    It all stems from a disastrous decision made some 40-50 years ago to introduce comprehensive schools. Comprehensively mediocre, they superseded the 3 tier grammar, technical and secondary modern system that produced the mix of graduates, skills and trades a healthy society needs. Their introduction was coupled with the decline of the apprenticeship system, further weakening our skills base. The final nail in education's coffin is the PC idea that no-one should fail, so exams had to be dummied down so that everyone could pass them.

    I'm sorry, but 50% graduates does not mean that you have raised the skills level of the population, it means that you have devalued the degree until it is meaningless. You do not need a degree to perform the vast majority of jobs, a good general education including literacy, numeracy and some specific training.

  • Comment number 40.

    I think that rather than acquiring graduate status at university it is better to serve a professional apprenticeship with a balance of work experience linked with a professional education program. Just imagine, an NVQ Level 4 or 5 and no student loan. This is what I did.

    What we tend to forget is Labour's strategy. An electorate and workforce is better controlled through fear. Fear of not getting a degree and being cast aside in the rush for jobs. Forced to take out loans and the added fear of keeping a job to repay them.

  • Comment number 41.

    Fewer but better graduates (more rigerous courses in academically demanding subjects) are what we need. The present system where school leavers are conned into going to university to lose three years earnings and take on huge debts, only to be left with degrees that offer them no better prospects of getting a rewarding (financially and intellectually) job is unethical in the extreme.

  • Comment number 42.

    Stephen Hamblett wrote:
    "The future for the UK is at the forefront of a high-skilled knowledge economy and we won't get there with less graduates."

    Sally Hunt is wrong.

    Indeed she is. She should have said "... with *fewer* graduates."

    Maybe she 'as one of them fancy modern English degrees like wot other people ave ?

  • Comment number 43.

    Why do we need so many graduates? The thinking use to be that a degree qualified you for a job in management though it has never been clear why spending three years taking exams made you good at managing people.

    Modern organisations with their “flat” management hierarchies need fewer managers than they needed years ago. So it’s hardly surprising that many graduates end up working in jobs that do not require a degree.

    We are in danger of creating a generation that is overqualified for the jobs that are actually available and think they are above the jobs offered to them. How is that a good thing?

  • Comment number 44.

    We should encourage those capable of going onto University, regardless of their background and ensure they are financed with the places and a grant system to reduce student debt.

    It may mean a reduction in the number of University places and mayble more spent on apprenticeships for school leavers at the other end of the spectrum as we need trades people as well as graduates.

  • Comment number 45.

    I want to see a more co-operative approach between government and students, rewarding diligence and success and recognising that a university education is an investment that will reap long-term rewards for both the student and the government. If you pass your course in 3 years, you get your loans and fees paid off. If not, the debt comes due. Exceptions for truely unforeseeable events (e.g. bereavement, illness, injury) but not alcoholism or other drug addiction (sorry, no way). No worse than now and a lot better for students who see university as a way to equip themselves for life, not a chance to avoid the real world for a few years.

  • Comment number 46.

    I went to university with people that now work in jobs that do not require a degree. They have left university in around £15,000 of debt and a degree that has not led them into a graduate job. If the government continue to push people into degrees, they will loose their value. There are not enough graduate jobs for all of the graduates and as a society we should not push every 18 year old into university. I work in a school where every student is expected to go on to university. Our attitudes need to change as not all degrees are equal but at the moment we are giving the next generation unrealistic expectations of their future.

  • Comment number 47.

    As a former University Lecturer, I'm confident in saying that a 50% target for University attendance is plain stupidity, in educational terms (although it does a very good job of keeping people off the unemployment lists, which is what the policy is _actually_ for).

    Your BEST hope is that you are educating the top 50% of the population - so, by what possible insanity can anyone believe that a person with an IQ of 100 (the definition of the average intelligence) belongs at University? University education is - or should be - aimed at the brightest in the population to raise them to the highest standard.

    The real madness of it is that it's NOT the top 50% who go to university - the intelligent poor at poor schools lose out to the below-average middle class at good schools.

    The result is Universities that take in thousands of students and then lose up to 30% when they drop out in year 1. For those that do make it with a degree, many of them have to come to terms with the delusion that their 'degree' from the University of Nowhere is equal to, for example, an Oxbridge degree.

    Government has to recognise that different people have different potentials and skill sets. Pretending that everyone can deal with a University education simply results in what we have now - worthless and shoddy degrees from shoddy establishments.

  • Comment number 48.

    We need students who apply for higher education who know there 3 R's. The standard of education has dropped over the last decade. Yes there appears to be more certificates earned. but for what. There are to few school leavers knowing basic facts or even know how to understand the basic principles of business in this country. We need Engineers, Designers, Students who will enhance this country, not dance or create a puppet show. REALITY is required.

  • Comment number 49.

    It should be down to the student to determine if they want to get into university. Targets are pointless, it just means those setting standards will bend them to meet their targets. If a student really wants to go to university, and is suitably qualified & motivated, they will work hard for it. Targets just make it easier for those who aren't that interested to "give it a try". When money & resources are tight, only those committed to it should be allowed in.

  • Comment number 50.

    Aiming to have less people be educated is a terrible idea for the future of the country.
    Education is one of the main buffers of crime, those who have had a good education are less likely to commit crimes such as theft/robbery and GBH.
    therefore instead of trying to stop people going to univercity we should encourage it further and enhance the education system to allow better education to combat the problem of anti-social youths.

  • Comment number 51.

    More students means less opportunity for poorer students because with so many out there companies have put even more emphasis on what institution you studied in, so its becoming even more important to go to the right place. And its the privately educated who overwhelmingly go to to good universities?
    Even worse, with a swathe of degree qualified applicants, when you are 40 and looking for a job you will find the degree and similar experience no longer gets you an interview, you need the exact experience. Already you will be finding that if you didnt do the exact job in the last few years you are put to the bottom of the heap. Times are gone where having a degree made you a generally capable person in the eyes of the employer.

  • Comment number 52.

    What we need is more plumbers and trademen.

  • Comment number 53.

    As a non-graduate I currently employ several graduates in relatively junior positions within my organisation. These graduates bring no skills to the job that differ from other non-graduates that I employ in similar positions. The univeristy courses in recent years have been 'dumbed' down to make them more accessible to all, and the end result is that these youngsters have unrealistic expectations of private sector employment.

  • Comment number 54.

    Our government has made many school leaves feel that university is essential if they wish to sucees. We have reached a situation where we have so many graduates that employers are able to demand university leavers for jobs which previously would not have needed a degree. Where does that leave the 50% of students who were unable to go - worse off? Have we therefore not therefore reached a self fulfilling prophecy?

    Personally I feel that universities should be reserved for academia. For the vast majority jobs where a specific skill set is needed, would specific training in the form of HNC/HNDs or apprenticeships be more appropriate? Is the added financial burden on the country, famillies and students really worth it?

    We also need to consider the quality of the new places we are creating. Is a first from Oxford Brookes worth the same as a first from Oxford? At what point do we decide that we have created a two-tier system? Has the problem of social mobility really been addressed?

  • Comment number 55.

    I wonder if the problem is not the number of people going into University, but what then happens. I have to accept that it is comforting to a Government (of whatever political party) to mask the true level of unemployment, by having people at University rather than being seen as unemployed.
    However, why are so many people "studying" the soft subjects like media studies and how are we to benefit? I would like a requirement for anybody looking to start at University to provide a clear plan of what they will try to achieve, and what they will do when they finish. That plan would have to include a measurable output of how the taxpayer will benefit. Then they can all go.

  • Comment number 56.

    Fewer Graduates of better quality is what is needed. A university degree has been degraded over the last 40 years along with the education system, a degree used to mean something back then not now. The move to module based examination is open to abuse and becoming a joke.

  • Comment number 57.

    I worked alongside a woman of a certain age who had a degree, she did administration, something a young person with several GCSE's could easily do.

    If you make half of workers degree qualified they will end up doing mainstream jobs and demanding graduate wages. That leaves the rest on very low, not well regarded (but still necessary) jobs.

    Don't forget, a degree only lasts for 5 years on average, after that it's what you have done since leaving university that counts.

    I know of several friends of my daughters who took degrees as an alternative to working, they are now either married with kids and part-time working homemakers or are unemployable, over educated workshy.

    I went to college after working in heavy engineering for five years. Which I would recommend to anyone, (just working for a year would suffice and I'm not talking about that freebie of the middle-classes the gap year).

    Reading Bill Bryson he asked an old college friend who worked in a university town (in the USA) what were the students like, he replied that they were very shallow, knew nothing & motivated only by money, (sounds like the UK?).

  • Comment number 58.

    When the University and College Union's general secretary states "The future for the UK is at the forefront of a high-skilled knowledge economy and we won't get there with less graduates." it makes a very good point.

    A high skilled knowledge economy should start with a good command of English and the word is 'fewer', not 'less'.

  • Comment number 59.

    Fewer graduates - smaller population....No Brainer!!

  • Comment number 60.

    The 50% target is completely random, and therefore meaningless. What matters is not that we have 50% graduates, but that we have 'sufficient' graduates - whatever that number might be.
    It's not just a question of quantity though, it's quality - we need hi-tech scientists, engineers & researchers. It's a pity that these subjects are not promoted more - especially on TV. When is Eastenders for example, going to include someone that actually intends having a science/engineering career, instead of the usual low-aspiration, aggressive and generally depressing characters.

  • Comment number 61.

    The target of 50% of people under 30 in higher education would only work if there were no jobs for 50% of people under 30. How would this be funded?

  • Comment number 62.

    Not all people can benefit from a University degree. None can benefit from a poor standard of degree. Because a large proportion of people are allowed to study for a degree does not increase natural intelligence on iota.

  • Comment number 63.

    Yes of course the UK needs fewer graduates. Anybody who hasn't been to university and who therefore has brains, common sense and who has defied all odds to be financially successful can see that. Unfortunately though most people today have been to university and struggle to spell corecctly let alone understand the problems associated with having too large a population of graduates.

    I personally did not choose to go to university because I have the ability to think for myself and I have been very successful and am now well off without any debt burden unlike all my graduate friends who not only lack common sense but also have massive financial debts. That is not to say that I do not value learning it is just that I prefer to learn through doing things, I prefer the University of Life to actual university. It is clear to me that we need fewer media studies students in former polytechnic universities and as a hard working taxpayer I would like to see my taxes funding proper courses like maths, physics and engineering in top universities like Oxford. Anyone else simply should not be there.

  • Comment number 64.

    This government has made a complete mess of education with their 50% target and upgrading every educational establishment to university status. They are failing both the workforce and industry.

    This is not an issue of equality but need. Industry needs a workforce with mixed skills, some of which are practical rather than theoretical. In my industry (high tech), I can not recruit technicians other than those who have been in industry for more than 10 years - the system no longer produces them. The electronics engineers I see have no practical skills other than those they have taught themselves.

    As a country we need the elite and should not erode those establishments which produce the elite by experiments in social engineering. We also need the practical.

  • Comment number 65.

    Some common sense for once.

    The whole education system is a mess and needs reform from the bottom up.

    Social engineering, tinkering with teaching on a regular basis have all played their part but when children are leaving primary school at the age of eleven unable to read or write then it doesn't take too much brain to realise that the system is rotten and children are being betrayed.

    Children are not equal with learning skills and should be streamed according to ability as happened as recently as 1960. It worked and would work again.

  • Comment number 66.

    What the country needs is better graduates. The ones I have seen in the last 15 years have been illiterate, non-numerate, and without any understanding of either philosophy or science. I don't care if the actual degree is called 'African-style Hairdressing' or 'Atomic Physics', but I do expect them to be able to write, do long division, and most important: think!

  • Comment number 67.

    I agree with Megan when she says "What I got from the degree was the ability to learn for myself, to research, to find out." There is a lot ore to studying a degree then simply subject knowledge. I graduated in 1981 in Computer Science and have worked in the software industry ever since. I am also a tutor for the Open University in my spare time teaching two 3rd year Computer Science undergraduate courses. These courses are easily comparable in difficulty to those I studied back then. So my conclusion is there are a lot of people commenting who are doing so from a position of ignorance when they talk of dumbed down degrees.

  • Comment number 68.

    The number of comments here that reflect a purely utilitarian approach to education fills me with despair. Yes, education is about work skills, but it is also, very importantly, to do with wisdom, emotional intelligence and our ability to tap and use all aspects of our culture. Education is about the ability to ask the question, "Why?", and to look for the answer in an open-minded and skilful way.

    Remember folk: a nation lives from its head down. The number of unthinking comments in HYS suggests that this nation is a headless chicken.

    To answer the question - Yes we do need more university places, but only if World Literature and philosophy are a compulsory element to all courses.

    Yes I am joking, but there is a serious point I am making.

  • Comment number 69.

    If we have fewer graduates, whose going to serve me in the morning at McDonalds?

  • Comment number 70.

    In addition to the percentage of school leavers going to university being brought into line with the percentage of jobs requireing degrees, the amounts of places available on each course should be directly influenced by the current or projected demand for people with those skills in the job market too (ie. don't run courses for 20,000 people to study media studies if only 2000 jobs are likely to become available). After all, university education is still effectively state funded through student loans etc, so taxpayers have a right to influence what courses are available.

    Also, whilst I fully recognise the benefits of supporting people through university, the "risk" needs to be more fairly distributed between the taxpayer and the student. The present system allows individuals to waste 3 years at university, recieving their student loan every term, then they graduate and get a poorly paid job which could easily be done by a non-graduate, then they eventually get the loan written off if they never make use of the degree the taxpayer has funded! This, in my opinion, is wrong. I agree that student loan repayments should be proportionate to earnings, but graduates should be made to begin repaying their loan regardless of how much they are earning.

  • Comment number 71.

    "The future for the UK is at the forefront of a high-skilled knowledge economy and we won't get there with less graduates."

    Arrrrrghhhhh!!!!!! FEWER, not LESS!!!!!. Clearly there is a lot of work to be done to improve the quality of education in this country.

  • Comment number 72.

    Far too many degrees in useless subjects, that's the trouble. Subjects such as film, journalism and tourism are far better learnt "on the job" with day release at college if appropriate. It won't be long before a university offers degrees in road sweeping or toilet cleaning at this rate.

  • Comment number 73.

    The root cause of the problem is that the Universities are being run on a for-profit basis. This is why we have huge amounts of irrelevant and unsubstantial courses, why below average students are encouraged to attend and first years are stupidly easy because the universities only see the tuition fees. There has been a drop in quality and a hike in cost. For profit education, as with health, is a despicable trait of our privatised society

  • Comment number 74.

    "To have a high skill work-force, you need high educated people? So fewer Graduates from this country ? Would need many more people from other countries'So many more {non british workers'} all types' will be required by the U.K.

  • Comment number 75.

    "The future for the UK is at the forefront of a high-skilled knowledge economy and we won't get there with less graduates."

    Shouldn't that be 'fewer'graduates.

    Mmmm. Education isn't what it used to be!

  • Comment number 76.

    We live in a culture that champions freedom of choice and equal rights. It is antithetic to assume we can simply remove young people's choice and opportunity to go to university. All those that talk about the nation being better off with fewer graduates should meet a young 18 year old and tell them they can't go to college because the UK has met their student quota for this year. We can't bastion access to opportunities as a telos then remove the deeply embedded cultural practice of attending university that acts as a means to achieve that goal.

    I would suggest putting pressure on institutions to maintain high standards of tuition that will increase the education level of the general populace rather than limiting access to resources such as knowledge. I, for one, gained much analytical and personal knowledge from university. If you had told me I couldn't go when I was 18, I would of bought a rather heavy book and thrown it in your face.

  • Comment number 77.

    Yes, towns with Universities would have fewer targets for burglary and a longer life out of Trafic Light signals and traffic cones. A great deal more accomodation for it's indigenous population too.

  • Comment number 78.

    We all know what government (euphemism) targets are about.

    Here we go aping the US system again. What the government (euphemism) is buying with fees and degrees is a compliant population of ex-students who have such serious debt problems they'll do anything.

    Commercial, company interest will sort the wheat from the chaff as they will take people with senior management or expert chances from a certain 'stock'. They will not touch the majority, degree holders or not. A friend's son recently had an interview in which he was not offered the job. He was told, on the quiet after the interview, that he was what they were looking for but he had to go to a 'proper' university to get the SAME qualification. They know.

    We are being grossly unfair to scholars who are being conned by Labour's 'Prizes for All' attitude.

  • Comment number 79.

    I believe that a lot of people going for degrees may serve themselves and the greater population by learning to be electricians, joiners, plumbers etc.

    These jobs have as much if not more of a challenge than some of the "ologies" presently knocking around.

    Their ambition may then be satisfied by starting their own companies.

  • Comment number 80.

    It seems the real point of university has long since been forgotten. University was never originally about getting a qualification for a job, it was a purely academic establishment dedicated to bettering the knowledge of oneself and mankind as a whole.

    Since Liebour have come into power, they've turned all the technical colleges into universities (in name only) and it has become the automatic next rung on the education ladder.

    With silly degrees in horse grooming or cosmetics it's long overdue cutting back and ensuring that the people who go to university are the best and brightest (regardless of background) and that they are offered proper subjects to study in sciences, engineering, medicine, maths or languages.

    If this country wants to stem the tide of outsourcing we need a world class workforce that is educated to the highest standard. Not a system dumbed down to ensure as many people as possible have any old degree.

  • Comment number 81.

    The most irritating part of this is that they want to increase fees. Uni used to be free and for those who could do it. Now it is watered down and prices people out of education. By removing fees and restricting the places, the gov can pay for skilled workers and the unis can teach smaller classes to a more advanced level. This is again an excuse to raise fees. in the end the rich will have degrees and the smart will be trapped with everyone else.

  • Comment number 82.

    I agree with an earlier post - go back 20 years to when Universities provided good quality degrees to the top brains; Technology Colleged delivered vocational training to a high level; and get rid of 6th form colleges and put the 6th form back into schools....and, of course, bring back Grammar- and Direct Grant schools. That way, everyone's abilities will be catered for....

  • Comment number 83.

    Maybe industries should take a bit more responibility for training their own recruits?

    Some of the more questionable degree subjects are those where real, practical experience will equip you far better than classroom learning.

    Why not have structured internships where the employer has a duty to train students to a foundation degree level in the work that they do, offering jobs to interns who perform well. This passes the cost onto private firms (who could recieve tax-breaks in return) and also ensures that there aren't more people studying for a dgree than there are jobs available.

    Note that there are more people studying photography in the UK than there are paid photographers in the whole of Europe.

  • Comment number 84.

    Yes. We need more plumbers not hundreds of media studies and surfing graduates.

  • Comment number 85.

    The sad fact is that most students see university as an opportunity to get drunk and take drugs and have sex for 3 or 4 years - so it is a litte sickening for the rest of us going to work and paying taxes so the drunken hoardes can have a great few years.


    I would rather that be the situation than go back 20 years or so when only priveleged children got to go to university - if one council estate kid gets a fantastic degree and goes to the moon or cures cancer, then the whole thing is worth it in my opinion.

  • Comment number 86.

    "The future for the UK is at the forefront of a high-skilled knowledge economy and we won't get there with less graduates."

    Ummm, perhaps we need more English courses, then the speaker would know that the expression is "fewer graduates"!

  • Comment number 87.

    The AGR is right to defend the value of a degree, a BSc Honours is very hard work unless one is a genius. The AGR also wants to enable the gifted poor by guaranteeing them access to Higher education, that again is good. It all seems fair.
    However, does it not smack of a division, just another tool of discrimination, a way of keeping people down? E.G. When the Communists occupied Poland, even if there was an attempt to brainwash the population, most Poles made sure of a good education, Technically & Scientifically.
    Isn't it everyone's right to have a good education, whether or not the country needs it?

  • Comment number 88.

    This country has a fixation with an academically-based higher education system and, unlike countries like Germany, has undervalued and neglected technology-based education.
    Perhaps our industrial and manufacturing sector would not have collapsed as completely as it has done, had we invested in high quality technical secondary schools and university courses, instead of indulging mediocre students with Media Studies, Tourism and Performing Arts, then compounding the farce by letting them dress-up in a meaningless mortar board and gown.

  • Comment number 89.

    Let's go back to the Golden Age, when there were only 7 universities in the whole of the UK. University education was the province of the well off and working class students had to win scholarships to get there.
    Educating people above their station leads to unhappiness.

  • Comment number 90.

    It's a difficult one. On one hand the more educated our populous the better it is for us internationally, however our definition of education is rather limited. What exactly is the point of having millions of media graduates?! The whole system needs an overhaul to cover the plethora of differing jobs and trades.
    As someone who recently left university I can attest to how ridiculously dumbed down it has become, instead of encouraging independent higher thought it was more of the same A-level/GCSE opinion regurgitation. I had hoped to be stretched but was once again having to go at the speed of the slowest member (for whom Chaucer was what you rested a cup on).
    This whole things reminds me of those new non-competitive sports days at schools in which 'Everyone's a Winner!'.

    What I'm faced with now is competing in a stifled job market with a degree that might as well have come from a box of cereal. The only way to separate yourself is to go for a Masters and thanks to the fees structure I can barely cope as it is.

  • Comment number 91.

    We have a Government (and Opposition) with aspirations to redress social imbalances and make it possible for children to break out of deprivation and enjoy the benefits of a University education. Fine in principle, but implementation is doomed to failure unless:

    1. parents bring up their children in such a way as to encourage a love of lifelong learning in its own right, and to prepare them to take full advantage of primary school

    2. primary schools focus on basic skills in literacy, numeracy, IT, music, critical thinking, and healthy living, and open children's minds to the world outside of their family and community, so that they can begin to develop a sense of social responsibility and tolerance

    3. secondary schools focus on building well-rounded individuals with well-developed core skills, a wide knowledge base across the sciences, arts and humanities, a maturity of view with regard to citizenship and the responsibilities of living in a free democracy

    Individuals passing through this developmental process should then be offered three pathways:

    1. for those that wish to pursue a profession which requires advanced study, or those who simply want to immerse themselves in a subject at the highest level and conduct their own research - they go to a proper academic university offering core subjects in science, technology, arts and humanities

    2. for those that wish to pursue a career that requires a level of specialist knowledge and skill, but not advanced study, they go to a less academic institution - lets call it a Polytechnic - where a wide range of courses across all sectors of the workplace are available

    3. for those who want to learn a skilled trade which is fundamentally hands-on, there are proper apprenticeships

    Universities have become degree-factories which have to be run like businesses. Students are demoralised because of the debts they incurr and poor job prospects at the end of the process. Business and industry are disappointed in the final product.

    We are seeing a generation of disaffected young people, saddled with debt, high drop-out rates amongst the very people the Government wish to encourage and industry recruiting from outside the UK to fill key posts.

    I keep hearing the words "Education, education, education ..." echoing in the background, but it is too late - the country is bankrupt and there will never be enough money now to put things right. A very sad state of affairs.

  • Comment number 92.

    "14. At 10:03am on 09 Mar 2010, Scott bailey wrote:

    You often hear people say there are too many graduates but as an employer, I'm afraid the opposite is true. The more university trained people we have, the better."

    Is that because you can't be bothered to train your own workforce; something responsible employers used to do?

  • Comment number 93.

    The question is perhaps of secondary importance to the value of degrees and their classifications.

    If we have many more graduates than ever before, which arguably is not a bad thing, from an employer's perspective it is more important to have gained a good degree; ie - in a subject which demands a high level of scholarship, and a bias towards graduates with 2:1 or First Class mark. Graduates with 'good degrees' are rarely unemployed for long.

    But it is facile to suggest that Degrees are demeaned simply because more people study to that high level. It has, quite rightly become the new standard to achieve for many vocational professions. My only criticism is towards so-called Degree courses which offer little scope or skills beyond the immediate single career. These used to be called training courses or apprenticeships. Sadly many of the essential technical skills are now being ignored and we probably need more plumbers than leisure administrators.

  • Comment number 94.

    The vast number of graduates means that people must go further up the education scale in order to distinguish themselves. I am studying for a Masters degree (£4000) in the hope that employers will regard it in the same manner that they regarded Bachelors degrees 20 years ago; as proof of a determined, critical mind and a good indicator of reasonable intelligence.
    Keep diluting the intake and in another 20 years people will be complaining about the MSc courses and students will need PhDs in order to get a job!

  • Comment number 95.

    As a relatively recent graduate from 2008 and also being a part of a young talent recruitment team where I work, I can see that the quality of graduates is in perilous decline. Most of this is down to the curriculum based schooling to get the best grades, and not the "everyday" schooling to prepare people for real life such being able to work in a professional manner at work.
    My parents couldnt afford to support me to go to university unless I could get financial aid. I was constantly in the top 5% in my class during school - even top 0.01% in the country for Mathematics, but without this assistance I wouldnt have got to university to study and get one of the top graduate jobs after. I was grateful at the time to be able to rely on grants/student loans - it just needs to be targetted, as a lot of students are starting to think its sort of a "free ride". Attitudes have changed from elitism to going for the "uni experience"
    However it's got to be a fair balance in that regard.

  • Comment number 96.

    I am inclined to agree with the majority of commenters so far - I think that a 50% target is ridiculous. I studied Mechanical Engineering, graduating in 2006, but already many of my peers were studying subjects which really haven't helped them get a job in any way. Many have had to rack up further debt to do another degree or further training to get somewhere.

    I do think that courses should be pared back to the basics (English, History, Engineering, Law, Art and Science) and the remainder of courses should be taught in colleges or other further education institutes

  • Comment number 97.

    Yes, we need less graduates as there are not the jobs for them. My Daughter left University last year and is still unemployed, and her friends who are in work are doing temporary non graduate jobs. The only reason a lot of students go into further education is because of peer pressure and the fact that there are no alternatives.
    I feel sorry for the current and future graduates as they are being saddled with enormous debts which they will struggle to pay. I have had three children go through the university system and they are all straddled with debts in excess of £20k.

  • Comment number 98.

    When I left school you needed 'O' levels to just get an interview. Then it was 'A' levels. Now you need a degree just to get an interview for any clerical or administrative job. Degrees by their ubiquity have become devalued and are no indication to employers of the applicants ability.

    Nor do most degree courses equip a person for employment. We continue to fail to educate your young people on how the world works; what banks are, what insurance is, how the capitalist system in general works. They enter the world of work and adulthood completely untrained in the world of commerce and indeed in the basic skills to mange their business life.

    And too often their speech is almost unintelligible and they are illiterate and innumerate. Their inability to communicate clearly in their own language is shocking - the more so compared to how much better many European young people can speak and write English.

  • Comment number 99.

    A classic example of labour's social engineering going horribly wrong.

    The is hwy they must go at the next election, not because we want a Tory government, but because we have to stop labour's meddling and making things worse!

  • Comment number 100.

    I studied Geology at university and had no trouble finding work when I graduated. Whilst at uni I was surprised by the number of people studying Mickey Mouse degrees who will never find work in their fields. Many of them went to uni 'for the experience' and to avoid getting a job (not just my opinion, many are happy to discuss their mantra). I struggled financially through my degree and had to work full time throughout. In my opinion, funding should be limited on degrees such as Media Studies and Modern Dance and so on, and finding increased in more worthwhile degrees such as science, engineering, medicine, architecture.

    Students who do not want to study disturb those who do (loud music played in the library, fire alarms set off in student halls at 3am every night because its funny?!?!). People who want to party 24/7 on tax payers money should be kept separate from those who want to learn. Let the people who do want to study, study in peace.


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