/ Money, Parenting

Earning potential isn’t the only factor when choosing a uni

Lots of graduates in robes and hats

Now that course fees alone can cost students £27,000, undergraduates have to be more scrupulous than ever when applying to uni. But how important is it to consider potential earnings, and what else should count?

Official workforce surveys are planning to ask respondents about which universities they attended.

The idea is to reveal which institutions are most and least successful at producing graduates who go on to certain careers, as well as giving undergraduates better information about what they get for their money.

Treat uni as an investment

There are lots of other sites already providing information to help with uni choices. The government’s offering, for example, is Unistats. This gives information about both the student learning experience and average graduate salary from each institution.

On the one hand this data strikes me as a useful. With the increase in fees, students are being asked to invest a lot of money in their education. If you were buying a financial product for £27k you’d want to know what kind of return you’d get in the future.

However education isn’t a simple product, like a savings bond or ISA. There’s a certain kind of ‘graduateness’ that’s acquired through three years of university that is difficult to quantify.

I’m talking about the confidence developed from learning to study, research and manage a workload independently, as well as the opportunities university affords to develop other interests – from sports and voluntary work to writing for the student newspaper.

Stats don’t reflect life choices

I have two friends who studied French and Maths at leading universities but have decided to work in the mental health sector. As a result, they have smaller salaries than they would if they’d opted for a job in the city or a blue-chip company; opportunities which their degrees would have opened up to them.

Another friend works in medical research. She chooses to work for the NHS rather than for a multinational, which would no doubt pay her more.

The life choices these friends have made are guided by more than the pay they receive and would thus reflect ‘poorly’ on the institution they attended when being analysed for potential earnings. However, I’m sure the skills and that ‘graduateness’ they developed while at university will put them in good stead to excel in their chosen field.

Is money the most important factor?

There’s more to university than the course and there’s more to life than the money you receive at the end of the month. Is there a role for a happiness index for graduates as part of the government’s wider happiness index, for example?

We’re particularly keen to hear your thoughts on this issue because at Which? we’re busy developing a new website to help students choose the best course and uni for them. How do you think higher education establishments should convey the wealth of the experience they deliver – or is money the most important factor at the end of the day?

John Symons says:
10 November 2011

I chose my uni in 1968/9 based on asking a teacher the best six unis to study chemistry at and ranking these for my UCCA form. You should really be asking whether students choose their degree *subject* based on how much they expect to earn from it. I was good at science and languages and when selecting my A Levels reasoned that being a scientist with languages as a hobby was a better bet than the reverse. Having resisted my taxman father’s advice to study accountancy (too boring) I am now an oil and gas economics and *taxation* consultant.

I can’t remember anyone from my year talking about their earning potential before, during or after their uni courses.

Nowadays though, the sky high prices are making people think if going to Uni really is the right thing for them and can they ultimately pay it all back.

I just wish there was an alternative to working in IT/media/call centres. Not enough people are becoming Doctors/lawyers/scientists/plumbers/engineers etc etc. Too much like hard work and high expenditure so it has to be quantified to see if it is worth the risk/commitments.

Shame we sold most of our manufacturing to China/India, there needs to be an alternative to a lifetime of debt, but that’s the system we are tied to, financial/media meltdown

Dean…more scientists, engineers and doctors, an emphatic yes but lawyers, NO….
things are quite difficult presently in the legal profession as to entry thereto… securing
a place in a decent set of civil chambers in London is virtually next to impossible
unless having the right connections or being exceptionally well-gifted.

My GP practice has taken on someone qualified in Russia. It would seem British
medical schools are not producing enough doctors for service in the NHS.

I think law is quite a popular choice for graduates – a lot of my friends have done law conversion courses to try to get into the profession. Apparently getting training contracts et al is very difficult. I’m pleased I wanted to follow a media career instead – where it’s so easy to walk into a job 😉

John Symons says:
13 November 2011

Having re-read your question, I would say that tertiary education establishments should go beyond their claims of percentages finding employment (as beloved of at least two former Scottish poytechnics). As far as they can determine it, they should publish average earnings of former students by subject and by year of graduation. They should also publish the jobs actually obtained, again by subject and perhaps by groups of graduation years in order to show trends. This information might not only help potential students but also improve careers guidance. Money is not the only factor; indeed, poor understanding of the loan repayment scheme is making it much more of a factor than it should be. Some of the apparently intangible benefits of student life such as socialisation and general “learning how to learn” must in fact be reflected in job market salaries.