As a new tranche of students receive their results this week, and they begin to pack their bags ready for their move away from home to university, the debate can once again arise over the value of a university education. The fees for UK students still stand at £9,000 per year for most universities, and then costs of accommodation and other living expenses are added onto that. But still, overwhelmingly, students choose to enrol to universities, and take on these huge debts. Today, UCAS estimates that over half a million students have places to start at university this autumn, defying predictions about a fall in numbers following the fee rise.
86% of students would enrol at university again a second time round
These students, who come to university clearly believe that university is worthwhile, but what about those coming out of university? Somewhat surprisingly, a national survey showed that 58% of students felt that their first year was not worth the full £9,000 tuition fees. This is a staggering amount; more than half of students coming out of their first year feel that it was not good value for money. However, there may be an easy way to explain this. In many cases, and indeed in almost all courses at Oxford, the first year does not count towards the final degree classification (which is either encouraging or disappointing, depending on how you did in prelims). In some universities, students regard first year as a bit of a joke.
Indeed, the statistics do support this theory, picking up to show that by the time students finish their course, 86% would say they would enrol again if the choice came around again, and 84% would recommend university to others. So before you all quit or revoke your offers, things, say the stats, do get better.
So what about what comes after university? Well, the best measure of whether your future prospects are improved by a university degree is probably salary (granted, money isn’t everything, but it’s an easy way to measure the difference between graduates and non-graduates). The data shows that only four percent of graduates are unemployed, compared to five percent of people with A levels, and eight percent of people with GCSEs. The wages show that on average, the salary of a graduate aged 21 is in fact lower than a salary of someone the same age who did an apprenticeship instead of a university course. However, over the long run, an average graduate salary levelled out at £35,000, whereas those without a degree had an average of £29,000 with an apprenticeship, or £22,000 without. If thats too many numbers for you, the short story is that whether or not you have a degree matters to your future income.
Of course, we must also remember that some careers require a university degree. It’s virtually impossible to become a doctor or a lawyer in the UK without a degree, and more and more careers require further education qualifications.
University is clearly a good investment for the future
The last question to ask in this quest for a profound answer on the value of a university education is whether it’s personally worth it. University isn’t for everyone. Many people may not enjoy spending three years (or more) studying one specific subject, and would much rather get on with doing something less academic and less intense (which is exactly how I feel around two hours before my fifth week essay deadline). At the end of the day, numbers will only get us so far. The only real way to decide whether university is right for you is on a personal level.
So have we concluded that we can’t come to a conclusion? Well, no. Whilst university is at the end a personal decision, the statistics definitely show that university both improves your job prospects, and is on the whole enjoyed by students who are leaving university now. University is clearly a good investment for the future, and a hell of a lot of fun along the way.
Matthew Moriarty is the OxStu Comment editor for Michaelmas 2014. He has written for the Oxford Student for two terms previously, and you can find him on Twitter @andmyselfMatt