- By Jessica Sinclair
In 2010, the government made an announcement to raise tuition fees to £9,000. Since this announcement, Universities have been marketing their institutions to prospective students in terms of graduate employment success and employment prospects. A report released in November 2013 by the Office for National Statistics about graduates in the workplace shows that the employment prospects for recent graduates aren’t all that dismal. However, as a recent graduate myself, I am experiencing first-hand the harsh employment prospects most graduates face. It has also made me question the importance of my Undergraduate degree, and whether it was really worth it.
In April to June 2013 the graduate employment rate stood at 87%, which generally shows a positive outlook for recent graduates. However, the report also states that about 47% of those graduates are in non-graduate roles such as waiting and temping. This 87% may seem high, but the harsh reality is that these ‘graduate roles’ are a select few career paths that graduate websites focus too heavily on. These include Finance, Marketing and PR, which are all incredibly competitive, with usually 2 or 3 places per 300 applicants. Even searching under industries like ‘Charities’, the outcome will usually produce results like ‘marketing director’ or ‘PR manager.’ Graduate websites market these jobs as something that everyone wants to go into as a career, with University career centres endorsing them as well. However, working so closely with the University means that different career avenues which are available to students are very limited.
The 47% of graduates working in non-graduate roles aren’t there out of choice; the problem is the lack of paid jobs in the chosen career sector. Venturing outside the stereotypical graduate roles will usually produce overly competitive internships, which are largely unpaid and don’t always end in a paid job at the end. Internships are marketed as gaining experience, but a graduate is expected to undertake several of these internships before they are considered to be employable enough for paid work. Even attempting to locate an internship with entry level positions that don’t include years of experience is difficult. This is mainly due to the amount of people now with an undergraduate degree, which are now not considered ‘enough’ by employers. Unpaid work is unsustainable, and will often lead to graduates taking on a part time job in order to sustain a living.
For some, a postgraduate course seems a tempting option, as a lot of jobs often ask for more than an undergraduate degree due to the amount of people that now have one. However, choosing to go into further study is not as easy as simply applying and continuing to study. If you are a UK student and choose a taught Masters in Social Sciences or Humanities, your funding is limited to a Career Development Loan. However, for science based students, you can easily choose to extend your course whilst retaining student finance. Looking on University websites for any further information is similar to finding a needle in a haystack. Many of them will be for international students, and a lot of the advice will be for those coming to the UK to study. The fees themselves are also ridiculously high, and could be anywhere up to £13,000 for UK students. So why do some people choose to put themselves through it? The answer is simple. Without it, there are barely any opportunities outside the standard graduate roles which are paid. But with it, you have a more competitive edge and have more of a chance of being employed. It’s a gamble, but it’s a gamble which most people have to take.
University used to be seen as a place to broaden one’s horizons and expand one’s knowledge in a certain subject area. Nowadays, the perspective has shifted towards employment benefits, especially with the recent rise in tuition fees. However, Universities are still not doing enough to ensure that students are well equipped for the job market when they graduate. Degrees need to include basic Microsoft Office training, as many do not give students these basic skills. Many need to include vocational training, or incorporate placement into their course requirements, as many students will only graduate with their grade and no extracurricular activities. Without sufficient change, graduates can expect the same bleak employment prospects, but with larger debts.