It pays to teach kids how much they'll earn

It might seem unfair to monetise aspirations, but failing to provide students with guidance on where they'll likely end up financially is a far greater disservice

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Are you happy in your current career? In hindsight, would you have chosen the same path if you were given more foresight at school? Figures published last week by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) found that 87 per cent of graduates from the 2009 university cohort are in work. This is the bunch that graduated at the height of the recession – and apparently 8 out of 10 are satisfied with their careers and believe they got value for money from their degrees. But employed is not necessarily being employed in the desired field, and when a polite phone-operator calls you at midday to ask whether you are satisfied with how things are going since leaving university – it is easier to pacify them and be polite yourself. Things are fine, thanks.

When I was at school students received little to no guidance on average salaries attached to prospective career paths. While it might seem unfair to monetise kids’ aspirations, or to force them to stay on in education till they are 18, as the Government have just announced, failing to provide students with guidance on where they are likely to end up financially because of their decisions in early life is a far greater disservice. School kids deserve to be taught about the financial implications of all prospective career paths at secondary school.

It is a nice idea that everyone follows their dreams – and good luck to anyone who does, and reaps rewards in doing so. But students’ desired quality of life could be dramatically affected as a result of receiving no information about the realities based on statistics. Not every student has a latent Alan Sugar inside. A free society should welcome informed decision-making - and it could improve social mobility.

A mere one in nine media studies graduates who are employed hold a media related job six months after finishing university; they are most likely to find themselves working in sales and retail. A medicine graduate, however, is 99.4 per cent likely to be working as a health professional in the same six-month period. It must be disappointing to find yourself at a checkout with thirty thousand pounds of debt weighing on you, when you’re grinding it out on minimum wage. Three years after graduating medicine and dentistry students have an average income of £30,000, while those who studied fine art or design average £15,000.

There exists a social mobility website called Bestcourse4me.com – it’s a charity that provides students with detailed information through graphs and statistics for each university subject, and the reality of the outcomes - the same stuff schools nationwide should teach as a compulsory matter. The data is collated from HESA and the Labour Force Survey, presenting figures of salaries per subject based over a lifetime, unemployment rates, and so forth.

Christine Buccella, director of the website, says: “I think knowing what kind of earnings you’re going to have depending on what you are thinking of doing is a really important thing to focus kids’ minds on the future. Middle class kids at the end of the day know they’re going to be fine, they’re not considering this kind of information, whereas kids from poorer backgrounds will take that into consideration. You need to think about what you enjoy doing, what sort of lifestyle you want to live – and think about some realistic way to get there.”It is of course possible the students wouldn’t push any harder at all, but at least they would know the realities and could give more thorough consideration to their performance and decisions.

In September 2014 the Government also plans to put personal finance on the national curriculum in secondary schools. This plan isn’t enough. If we are to teach students how to best manage money, or force them to stay on in English and Maths, we should go further and teach them about prospective salaries too. It is one flaw in our education system that wouldn’t be hard to iron out.

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