Why go to University? £48,500 buys you a hell of a gap year!

Why go to University? £48,500 buys you a hell of a gap year!

£48,500, that’s the average student debt for a UK graduate leaving university.

For those school leavers in 2022 and their parents, the perceived wisdom and pressure is that the best career step is that university and a degree is the key to a better job, career and earning potential.

In 2021 just 38% of all school leavers took up a place at a UK university. For some of those it will be that stepping stone, however for many who go to university without knowing what career direction they want to take, it can be an expensive and potentially life-long financial commitment. 

When I went to university at 18, I definitely fitted the category of not knowing what career I wanted. I went partly because there was an expectation from family and school, that that was what you did, and partly because I wasn’t sure what else to do. I was very fortunate that I didn’t have to pay tuition fees, and although I was the first year to experience student loans, the first-year amount was only £480. Many of my fellow students used the loan to buy stereos, holidays or just a couple of weeks solid partying!

The same just isn’t true in 2022, but it seems that the expectations of parents and schools hasn’t changed much to reflect the changed economic reality of 2022. School leavers are still encouraged to go to university, as the best thing to do without a clear purpose.

Don’t get me wrong, I think universities are superb further education institutions. For students knowing how their chosen study is genuinely going to advance their planned career prospects. Or maybe where the love of the subject or the pure desire for study can be worth every penny and every sacrifice. As a stop gap to working out what to do with your life, it’s a very expensive voyage of discovery! £48,500 would buy you a hell of a gap year! It would probably buy you a pretty amazing gap 3 years, and you would probably have as much to put on your CV at the end of it to impress a new employer, as a degree in a non-relevant subject for a role that doesn’t necessarily require a degree in the first place.

The alternative career path of apprenticeships is still developing within professional career paths. The paths are there, but not widely known about and our experience is that careers advisors, school leavers and parents are not aware that these options are open to them, or how to secure them if they are.

A recent survey by the Institute of Student Employers found 23% of companies plan to “rebalance” hiring from university or college leavers to young people who have only school-level education.

Within Accountancy, one of the specialisms that we recruit for at Rutherford Briant, we are seeing very high demand for school leavers amongst all sizes of Accountancy firms from Big 4, Top 20 Firms, through to independent local firms. The contrast between well paid professional training, leading to becoming a qualified Accountant within 3-5 years is marked. A school leaver after 3 years could expect to be AAT qualified, already on a salary of £25-£30,000 and well on their way to becoming a qualified accountant, before their contemporaries entering the profession have left university and begun their first graduate role. We currently have multiple firms still looking to fill school leaver roles for their September intake – one client approached us looking to fill 7 positions within 1 office alone!

The story is similar in recruitment. Within our business, we have an (almost) 50% balance of Graduates and non-graduates within the business. The earning potential and promotional prospects are almost identical for both at consultant, manager and director level.

So before taking up a place at University because it is the perceived ‘next step’ as a school leaver, it’s worth considering that there may be a much less expensive and far more lucrative route to a professional career than you might think.

Posted by: Toby Briant