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?