Over the past 18 months there has been much discussion about the value of a university degree. Research published last week found that 96% of graduates would study for a degree if they had to make the choice again.
The study, Futuretrack, has followed a cohort of people who applied for university in 2005-06 and started their degree in autumn 2006. Respondents were regularly surveyed, both during their studies and after graduation, in order to understand how students perceived their higher education experience, career and employment opportunities and how their aspirations changed as a result of their experiences.
Students starting university in 2006 were the first to pay variable fees. This makes their experience particularly interesting. They also faced a much tougher labour market than most of their predecessors, with higher levels of unemployment and restricted graduate recruitment in many companies.
This goes a long way to explain the report’s suggestion that the graduate premium (that is, the additional earnings advantage conferred by a degree) has been slightly eroded for the survey’s respondents. Yet they remain less likely to suffer periods of long-term unemployment than their less-well-qualified counterparts. Significantly, two out of three are optimistic about their long-term career prospects.
When it comes to skills, graduates felt that those they gained while studying were valuable when looking for employment. 70% felt that these skills were directly responsible for helping them to get work.
Graduates are working across all sectors and sizes of companies. While the majority (63%) still do work for large companies, 10% of those surveyed were working for micro companies (those employing fewer than 10 people). It is these small innovative companies that hold the key to future jobs growth in the UK.
One really important aspect of this report is its use of a different (and narrower) approach to classifying graduate jobs than other studies, which could easily lead to some misinterpretation. What the Futuretrack methodology does is identify those occupations which require a higher level of knowledge and skill and specifically need graduates in order to meet these skills requirements.
We can also see that the benefits of graduate employment don’t just manifest themselves in financial returns. Two-thirds of graduates in employment were satisfied with their current situation and over 70% were satisfied with future career options.
The Futuretrack study provides a vitally important insight into the lifecycle of a student from application through to employment.
We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that these graduates entered the world of work during the one of the worst economic crises in recent history. It is perhaps evidence of their resilience that despite tough times they are optimistic about their future careers.