Will doing a degree land you a career?

Graduate with sign on hat Image copyright Getty Images

Poppy Hunt would definitely like to earn a bit more money.

Although she graduated in Fine Art from the University of the West of England six months ago, she's currently working as a customer services assistant for Sainsbury's in Bristol.

"I feel overqualified at the moment working in a supermarket, because for this job I'm doing now, I don't necessarily need a degree," she says.

She's got plenty of company. 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% ended up in non-graduate jobs six months on.

Lizzie Crowley, the author of the report, says: "Unless we actually see degrees creating value for the economy, it is a big problem."

She says 77% of students will not pay their loans back in full. Her organisation wants UK universities to be prevented from charging the maximum level of tuition fees unless they deliver better graduate outcomes.

The CIPD argues that with the spiralling costs of university, students need to ask themselves whether a degree path is the best route into a career.

It says there is a need for much better career advice and guidance, alongside high-quality alternative vocational routes into employment other than university education.

Poppy Hunt wants to apply for museum and art gallery jobs, but working 39 hours a week in a supermarket, she is finding it tough to build up the required experience to secure a break into the arts.

Image copyright Poppy Hunt

"It might be one of those careers that it's better to have work experience in necessarily than having a degree," she says.

Poppy wasn't sure what she wanted to do when she left university in the summer, but it didn't take long for graduate Jessica Davies to land on her feet and forge a career in the world of recruitment. She just wishes she hadn't racked up £48,000 of student debt in the process.

"I left university as anyone does and suddenly thought: what now? I had this great degree and wanted to go out there and get a job that suited me." But she ended up in a job which doesn't require a degree.

Jessica left the London School of Economics in 2016 with a 2:1 in Economic History. She doesn't regret it. But for her career, it wasn't really necessary: "I've found something that I'm good at, that I can do well, but also that I enjoy. I could have gone into recruitment four years ago before my degree and probably done just as well. It's not something that was worth £48,000 now," she says.

Image copyright Jessica Davies
Image caption Jessica Davies ended up in a job that didn't need a degree

Fee incentive

Lizzie Crowley wants the government to step in.

"As we look ahead to the budget next week, the government should consider linking tuition fees to graduate destination data in order to prevent higher education institutions charging top-rate fees while delivering bottom-rate outcomes," she says.

"This report shows that the pre-occupation of successive governments with boosting graduate numbers is leading to high levels of over-qualification and potentially skills mismatches, which the OECD suggests undermines productivity growth."

The CIPD figures are based on the most recent data from the Higher Education Statistics Authority.

The CIPD also found that almost a third of total graduates (29%) were on a salary of less than £20,000 six months after graduating, well below the UK average of £28,300.

But the head of Universities UK, Alistair Jarvis, says assessing the employment outcomes for graduates only six months after they leave is too crude a measure.

"Six months after graduation, a lot of graduates are deciding what they want to do in the future still," he says.

"Over the last year, there were 4% more graduate vacancies than the year before and this is the fifth year in a row that employers are telling us we need more graduates and not [fewer]."

Mr Jarvis said: "University is not the best choice for everyone, apprenticeships are the right choice for some people. But employers are demanding more graduates.

"The graduate earnings premium is an average £9,500 per year and graduates are half as likely to be unemployed as non-graduates. There are many many good graduate outcomes coming from universities."