Published on November 20, 2012 | by Amy Tanikie-Montagnani

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Degree worth falls in value

A girl wearing a Mortar Board

Many students are finding it hard to secure graduate level employment [Flickr]

Whilst the level of unemployment has risen over the past years, more and more graduates consider non-graduate jobs as their only choice, which in turn affects the value of university degrees.

So is it really worth it going to university if you’re going to end up with the same horrible low-paid job?

Futuretrack, a study undertaken by the Institute For Employment Research at the University of Warwick has recently revealed that almost half of the graduates work in positions completely irrelevant to their level of education.

Their report, commissioned by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU), tracked 17,000 students from their 2006 graduation.

The results showed that during the last decade the earning potential of a degree has steadily been falling by as much as two per cent per annum, although non-graduates earned on average less than graduates.

While a degree continues to provide a significant earnings advantage, the benefit appears to be declining fast.

Vulnerable groups 

More than one in ten Futuretrack graduates have experienced significant problems with unemployment; black and Asian graduates and those with lower degree classes were particularly vulnerable, whilst those holding a first class, or a medicine-based degree were least at risk.

Even though most graduates believe that they have all the skills employers sought when applying for the type of job they wanted, they actually do not have to use their course skills in their current position.

“Students focus mainly on their studies while at university…so graduating into one of the worst recessions in history has hit them particularly hard.” Jane Artess

The £1.5 million report found that while male graduates continue to earn more than females, there is new evidence that the decline in earnings advantage has been slower for females than for males.

Professor Peter Elias, co-investigator at the University of Warwick, comments that: “One of the more continuing and disturbing findings, which underlies all of the salary analyses, is the gender pay gap in graduate earnings that we found in a study 10 years ago has persisted and shows no sign of diminishing.  Male graduates with similar qualifications, experience and in similar jobs earn more than females at the outset of their careers.”

Thousands in debt

As students with lower financial backgrounds take student loans as their only choice, the average level of debt on graduation has increased a lot in the last decade.

For those who study at English institutions, 44 per cent will end up with debts of £20,000 or more. Only one in six of those graduating from Scottish universities had similar debt levels after tuition fees were waived in Scotland.

Unfortunately taking up on a non-graduate job makes it more difficult for graduates to pay off their debt.

Jane Artess, research director at HECSU, says: “Graduates’ perceptions of the value of their degree in finding work changes remarkably after they have been in the labour market for some time, which helps us to understand the magnitude of the downturn on this group.

“Students focus mainly on their studies while at university, particularly in their final year, so graduating into one of the worst recessions in history has hit them particularly hard.”

What is gratifying, Artess says, is that: “even in the wake of the recession, the onset of higher fees and large debts, graduates remain positive in the face of adversity with great confidence that their degree has been worth it,” as 96 per cent of graduates admit that they would still do it all again.

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