Academic qualifications prove an individuals ability to learn and achieve. Decades ago gaining a good job relied on experience and a good education at secondary or higher levels. Those going to university were the exception. In the past 20 years this has spun around with the majority of graduates at University claiming their degree was fundamental to applying for a good job. But this is no longer the case. Graduates are now discovering the shear number of graduates on the job market has undermined the relevance of their degree. The de facto standard of a 2:1 has become so commonplace as to hold little differentiation over non-graduates.
Only a nominal 15 per cent of degrees are used vocationally proving the primary subject worth of the remaining 75 per cent is suspect. Although they have become a right of passage trophy it is becoming increasingly expensive to obtain and arguably impossible to recover the financial tuition fee investment. Clayton Christianson, Harvard University Professor and an expert on disruptive change, predicts that over half of the colleges and universities in the U.S. will fail within the next 15 years because they are not offering a useful product. The £9,000 per annum tuition fee cost could be reviewed under the law of contract. What value does a degree provide, and has the tuition actually been maintained at an acceptable standard. Reports of some universities providing minimal lecturer support or the occurrence of reading weeks indicates universities are suffering from a cost imbalance and desperate to reduce (tuition) costs. Should under graduates therefore be considering legal action to pursue a claim of breach of contract in the service and market relevance of the course they are supplying.
The enthusiasm to model our educational system on that of the USA has thrown up some huge issues that could seriously affect our educational structure in the UK. Unpaid student debt in the USA, where tuition fees have been applied for decades has reached a mind-boggling total of $833billion. The UK government’s clamour to pursue students to complete a degree based on the premise that graduates get paid an average of £100,000 more than a non graduate throughout their working life is also falling into disrepute. The financial equation assumes gainful employment is achieved for the graduate on leaving university. This is often not the case, and the fact graduates also have a student debt averaging £44,000 will absorb half the supposed benefit. If this financial outcome is scrutinised a number of potential graduates could abandon their quest for degree status.
The repayment of tuition fees will displace cash that could otherwise enter the revenue stream. A £44,000 average graduate debt will take some time to repay and the chances of repayment issues from defaulting repayments, similar to the USA, could stifle the investment needed to maintain standards and course relevance in our universities.
This will hold severe repercussions for the UK and our universities. The standard of qualification of recruits entering employment will fall although time will tell if this is no bad thing with a degree of little use being replaced by more relevant market driven experience. Comparing the practical experience of non-graduates gained from their direct entry into the workplace rather than seeking a degree could well displace the academic alternative.
The conundrum is substantial with no easy resolution but without some form of review; potentially having to wait until the next general election, we could see an unwelcome decay in the relevance our higher education establishments are providing.