Does a degree guarantee you a good job?

With the time and money it takes to get a degree these days you can’t always be sure it’s still the best path to professional success.

Did degrees used to have more clout?



University degrees date back to the late 12th century although until about 100 years ago they were exclusively linked to the church. At the beginning of the 20th century, they became more readily available, but even in the early Sixties only 6 per cent of under-21s went to university. Today, the figure stands closer to 43 per cent. With 262,375 first degrees handed out last year alone, the crèmede- la-crème of graduate jobs are consequently harder to come by. However, the increase in graduates also means fewer employers are willing to look at applicants without a degree.



Do more people get better grades now?



Yes. 13 per cent receive the highest grade possible – nearly twice as many as a decade ago. Cynics say the boom in firsts is fuelling fears that the university honours system as been devalued by “grade inflation”. Others say that a rise in firsts should be seen as a good thing – a sign that universities are doing their job well. The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) says the rise isn’t steep though – it’s up just 1 per cent on 2006, with 36,645 firsts awarded last year.



What are the longer-term prospects for graduates?



Analysis of data from a HESA longitudinal survey of leavers from higher education institutions reveals that three years after they were first surveyed, the percentage of graduates in full-time paid employment had reached 74 per cent (up from 57 per cent when first surveyed). The level of unemployment during the same period had also dropped from 5 to 2 per cent. Overall, 80 per cent of employed graduates were reported as working in jobs classified as graduate occupations.



Which graduates have the best chances of getting a job?



Students who spend a year working in industry during their degree course have the edge when it comes to getting a job, according to research by Aston Business School in Birmingham. But fear not if your degree doesn’t include this opportunity. Most degrees offer some kind of work placement and there are plenty of openings for work experience which you can arrange independently.



What jobs are graduates going after?



It depends on personal preference of course, but a place on a traditional graduate training scheme with a FTSE 100 company would be high on a lot of students’ wish lists. However, Elspeth Farrar, director of Imperial College Careers Advisory Service, points out that they count for just 20 per cent of graduate employment. “Many of the rest go into smaller companies and often into jobs with a less structured entry point and career path,” she says. “But if you talk to these graduates, they often say they are using the skills they gained in higher education, so you could argue that these jobs have developed to become graduate jobs.”





Experts have their say

Opinion is divided when it comes to the benefit of getting a degree. We have asked a number of experts and students what they think about it.

The YES camp

Chris Phillips, UK and Ireland publishing director for the graduate jobsite targetjobs.co.uk



There’s plenty of evidence to show that graduates earn significantly more than non graduates over the course of their careers, but with nearly half of 20-year-olds in higher education, it’s clear that graduates aren’t quite the elite they once were. This means the choice of degree subject and the university are much more important now if students want a decent graduate job. Choose a degree programme that will develop employability skills as well as giving you subject knowledge and choose a university that has a good reputation with employers. The right choice of degree and university greatly improves your job chances.





Carl Gilleard, chief executive, Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR)



Securing a job is influenced by a number of factors, including the individual and the status of the market, but a degree certainly provides a stepping stone to a successful career, providing the graduate can demonstrate how the learning experience has developed their skills and prepared them for the workplace. Recruiters recognise the extra value that a graduate brings to an organisation, such as motivation and commitment, time management, intellectual acumen, flexibility and of course, future potential. In addition to academic success, it is important graduates use their time at university productively, making the most of the extra-curricular opportunities available, in order to stand out from the competition and secure their perfect job.





Peter Rankin, head and principal adviser, University of Central Lancashire careers service



According to the Student Experience Report 2007, 94 per cent of over 1,600 students surveyed reported that “going to university is a worthwhile investment”. Research has shown that three years after graduation, four out of five graduates were in graduate jobs. Obtaining a good degree is not enough, however – students must add value to it. Employers demand skills and often work experience as well. Meanwhile, developing enterprise and people skills, as well as specialist skills, is crucial. Universities are working hard to ensure that students are equipped with these.





Recent graduate Georgina Hunter, senior account manager at Pareto Law



Having a degree puts you one step ahead of the game, helping to create opportunities that may not otherwise have been available to you. Just weeks after graduating from UCL with a 2.1 in psychology, I secured a position with Pareto Law. After four months I progressed from trainee to account manager and a year later was promoted to senior account manager, where I now work to develop existing relationships, generate business and manage recruitment. The skills acquired during my time at university are invaluable in my work. Not only has my degree given me the confidence and independence to progress professionally, but my background in psychology helps enormously when it comes to understanding the requirements of clients.



The NO camp



Professor James Knowles, dean of the Graduate School at Keele University



You may be studying some esoteric subject at undergraduate degree level – and so much the better if that’s the thing that excites you – but it’s the underlying skills you develop rather than subject knowledge that will provide an edge in today’s international, competitive employment market. The fact is, a straight degree might not be enough on its own. However, research-based degrees, such as Masters and doctorates, require the ability to define, plan and execute projects. They require motivation, independent thinking, self-assessment, target setting, energy and focus to finish complex and difficult tasks that employers value. Once explained to your would-be employer, your skill set from a research-based degree will be very persuasive.



Andy Powell, CEO of Edge, an educational foundation dedicated to raising the profile of vocational and practical learning



Far too often, academic achievement is seen as the only route to securing a good job; the truth is that there is a wide variety of routes to great careers. From mechanical engineering to design, many careers can be entered via apprenticeships, qualifications from further education colleges or good training schemes in the workplace. Sadly, most young people in the UK aren’t exposed to these other routes. There is parental or other pressure to go down the university route without thinking about what the young person actually wants to do. At Edge, we believe that all routes to career success should be considered.





Mark Picken, managing director of mpad, a marketing, public relations, advertising and design agency



When it came to taking exams I suffered from nerves and struggled, so being offered an unconditional place on an HND advertising course when I finished A-levels turned out to be really good for me. With lecturers who had years of experience in the industry, the course was run like an agency. Sometimes you’d be given a brief in the morning and expected to pitch in the afternoon. I believe the experience has served me really well for my career – rather than grappling with academia, it gave me an understanding of deadlines, client demands, tight writing and creativity.





Jessica Stratton, unemployed recent graduate



I graduated last summer with a 2.1 in media studies and public relations from the University of Westminster. Initially, I applied for jobs below my qualifications because I needed cash – I was told I was overqualified. In November, I decided to apply for more appropriate jobs, mostly online in PR and advertising. I got nothing. I was forced to opt for a job in media sales, which I hated, so I left. I’ve since had more interviews for jobs I’d really like, which I got turned down for. I thought it would be so much easier to get work as a graduate.

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Engineering Design Manager (Mechanical)

£35000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: ENGINEERING ...

Year 3 Welsh Teacher vacancy in Penarth

£110 - £120 per day + Travel Scheme and Free training: Randstad Education Card...

Male Behaviour Support Assistant vacancy in Penarth

£55 - £65 per day + Travel Scheme and Free Training: Randstad Education Cardif...

SEN Learning Support Assistant vacancy in Penarth

£55 - £65 per day + Travel Scheme and Free Training: Randstad Education Cardif...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star