To degree, or not degree?

The ‘Boutique Britons’ are currently facing another hurdle.  When a new surge of students graduated from University, lucky to have escaped the recent fee increase (now up to £9,000 per year), many industries were under demand for vacant graduate positions, and were unable to accommodate these ambitious, intelligent and charismatic individuals.

Since the recession, breaking into the jobs market has been as tough as jumping on the property ladder, if not tougher. With more people graduating with admirable degrees, UK employers are seeing an average of 85 applicants per graduate job. After the each of these application processes, 84 people are left disheartened and jobless, fearing the job market and future employers. Universities have developed themselves to educate more and more students by increasing the number of courses and inevitably this raises the number of graduates. So are the Universities to blame for farming out such a strong selection of talented, eligible candidates with top degrees to their name?

Whilst the prestigious Oxford maintains its tradition of only allowing a certain amount of Firsts, other universities set no limit to the quantity of top honors they award. Between 2011 and 2012 there was a 45% increase of students leaving University with a First-class degree. With the rise in fees and the evidently tough job market, students are becoming even more fearful of the dangers of unemployment. In the struggling economic climate they say no to a drink at the pub and yes to an extra few hours at the library, with the expectation that this will gain them a better degree and as a result put them in line to secure a decent job.

However, it isn’t all downhill from there. “Pockets of growth”, where graduate jobs are available outside of London and in engineering, retail, telecommunications, consulting and IT, are full of positives. Employers are encouraging applicants to be realistic and look for an industry that requires their skills rather than for them to chase ‘dream jobs’. There is no doubt that people will continue to attend University: in the end it doesn’t just provide a degree (and debt!), it is a stepping stone, a chance to gain independence and ‘fly the nest’. But as employers are faced with large numbers of applicants perhaps they will look for something ‘different’, ‘quirky’, ‘edgy’ if you must, that pulls that person out of the crowd.

Our Future of Britain research found that 49% of people believe that a degree will no longer be a worthwhile investment. Tobi, a graduate currently in the job search, doesn’t feel she has been let down but for those future graduates who experience the increased tuition fees, she says “I would feel let down as my degree would feel like a waste of time – and money.” In our research, we came across Joe, who had fantastic A levels but no drive to go to University, so he secured a job as a Pizza Hut manager, sitting above his colleagues who are debt-ridden graduates. He is laughing! Am I suggesting ‘give University a miss?’ Not exactly, but after Costa Coffee in Nottingham saw 1,701 applicants for eight barista jobs, it seems that there is fierce competition for work at any level, and that higher education may do little to break through it at this stage.

Our recent research highlighted that more and more of this generation will emerge as entrepreneurs seeking opportunities in self-employment, with 4 in 10 seeing that route as more attractive than working for a big company. So will people continue to try and break into the saturated graduate job market or will ‘Boutique Britain’ see an increase in successful youngsters like Joe, determined and driven, rather than the yearly flood of graduate jobseekers?


Co-authored by Anna Ward, Insight Intern, OMD UK, and Chira Tochia, Insight Executive, OMD UK


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