The sector in future will face growing scrutiny over its economic and social returns
The recent IFS report (see link below) discovered that that at 23 universities men typically earned less even 10 years after graduating than their counterparts who’d never been. For women, it was at nine universities. A University education, of course, is not just about ensuring that you have high level earnings in future years. But ,if the perception takes root that for most there will be no graduate premium, that universities wont really help you to be socially mobile and you will be stuck with debt for many, many years, then the obvious danger is that many young people will begin to turn their backs on Higher education.
Recent decades have seen a major increase in participation in higher education throughout the developed world. UK now has proportionately more graduates than any other rich country, bar Iceland. To many, probably most, this is a good thing. It has demonstrably improved the life opportunities of many more young people. But to others there are concerns . Perhaps the rapid expansion was underfunded, maybe the quality of teaching has declined, due to the increased pressure on academics to do more with less, and perhaps degrees have devalued in the job market, through over- supply. There is already a perception that many graduates are, in some senses, being underutilised in the labour market. Put another way ,many graduates are now in jobs that are not considered, or certainly weren’t historically considered, to be graduate level jobs. It is arguable that too many graduates are in jobs that are low paying and don’t utilise the skills and knowledge that their degrees gave them (or purported to give them). Aditya Chakrabortty in the Guardian this week points out that one in six call-centre staff have degrees, as do about one in four of all air cabin crew and theme-park attendants.
This begs an obvious question- what is the point in creating more graduates unless you have more graduate-level jobs?
In 2015 the CIPD in a policy report concluded that ‘Policy-makers need to scrutinise the range of courses offered by the HE sector and seriously consider the social and private returns to them. We conjecture that they will conclude that, in many cases, public funds could more usefully be deployed elsewhere in the education and training system. Our findings suggest that the presence of a large HE sector will not necessarily lead to the attainment of the knowledge economy so beloved by successive UK governments.’
Its pretty safe to conclude that, in future, there will greater scrutiny from young people, paying undergraduates , the government and regulators over the quality of degrees in HE institutions and the social and economic returns they can deliver . It is also clear that there are some in government (see this weeks Daily Telegraph leak story) who believe that some degrees and HE institutions are not currently delivering value for money for the students, and , indeed, taxpayers.
CIPD Over-qualification and skills mismatch in the graduate labour market-August 2015
IFS Working Paper-April 2016- How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background