Are we living in a post-graduate world? News headlines talk of spiralling debt and poor employment prospects for graduates, but despite looming fee increases the reality is much more optimistic.
The recent (quiet) announcement that tuition fees will soon increase to £9250 per year means that the price of a university education is greater than ever. Not only are the new fees eye-wateringly steep, but the cost of living is equally so. The University of Edinburgh currently estimates monthly student expenditure at between £635 and £1,280 per month without tuition costs.
With half of 2015 graduates - the first cohort to pay £9000 per year for tuition -asserting that their degree was not worth the fee, it's not surprising that many school-leavers are beginning to question whether a degree is a qualification worth having. After all, it seems positively lemming-like to sign up for a costly university course if it's going to bring you the bleak prospect of debt, menial work, and living with your parents in perpetuity.
Add to this the well-publicised list of British billionaires who didn't go to university (think Jamie Oliver, Richard Branson, and designer Cath Kidston), and the recipe for career success seems to be no degree, and immediate entry into the job market. Some say it's the way to a happy life, too. In 2014, Kidston's cousin Kirstie Allsopp attracted press attention by encouraging girls to eschew university and aim for the holy trinity of a job, a flat, and early motherhood.
For anybody who could get one, a university education used to be a no-brainer. You may be surprised to hear that, even in a strictly economic sense, it still is. For while headlines continue to shout about a dramatic over-supply of under-skilled graduates, research tells a different story.
According to a recent report by Charlie Ball, deputy director of research at the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU), graduate unemployment in 2014/15 remained at a relatively low 6%, half the rate for non-graduates. What's more, the figure hasn't exceeded 9% in the last 20 years.
This figure could be impacted by the number of CV writing specialists who tailor professional CVs to help recent graduates stand out from the crowd when applying for jobs.
Ball goes on to offer compelling evidence that even in an era of increased access to higher education, demand in many parts of the traditional graduate job market is beginning to outstrip supply. He also raises the important point that ever more graduates are entering the job market, making it tougher for non-graduates to access managerial and professional roles.
So, the message to would-be university students is clear: choose your course with care and get the right advice about marketing your skills to employers, and your employment prospects are better than those for your non-graduate counterparts. But what of the legendarily steep levels of debt which now come as standard with every university place?
The answer is that calculating your university debt up front can be misleading, because the amount you'll be asked to repay depends on your future earnings. Under the current system, graduates who don't fulfil their earning potential repay very little, and may even be able write off their university debt entirely. Those who enjoy great career success are asked to repay a lot.
Financial journalist Martin Lewis refers to this as a 'no win, no fee' education, and begs prospective students not to be put off by the apparently forbidding price tag. Given the graduate unemployment statistics mentioned earlier, it looks as though he's right. Not only is a university degree worth having on your CV in 2017, it's likely to remain so for some time to come.
Andrew Arkley is founder of Purple CV.Suggest a correction