THE BLOG

Do I Need To Go To A Good University?

23/01/2017 11:24 GMT | Updated 23/01/2017 11:24 GMT
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There are plenty of people who'll tell you that if you don't go to a 'good' university there's barely any point going at all. There's no point, they'll say, studying something obscure at some uni no one's ever heard of.

Those people wrong and there's a major new study out this month that proves it. In fact, the findings will shock you. They show that the whole idea of a so-called 'good' university needs a radical rethink.

But before I reveal all, we need to ask what we mean by a 'good' university?

Is it one that needs high grades to get in? If that's what we mean, then what makes it 'good' is the quality of the students, not the quality of the educational experience?

How about league tables? Nope. They use dodgy data, measuring things that are largely irrelevant for most students and then mixing up the numbers in irresponsible ways to cook up a list that matches most people's expectations. Mostly they just regurgitate the same prejudiced ideas about 'good' that they've helped to create.

The fact is, different students want different things. Some are after the Hogwarts-like magic of Oxbridge. Others want a part-time course near where they live that will help their career. There's no right answer to this, so 'good' means different things to everyone.

There's one thing, however, that most people do want out of their time at uni. They want to get a job. And, ideally, they want it to be well paid.

The latest study, conducted by charity and advice website bestCourse4me, reveals who really does get the jobs. And what they earn throughout their lives.

The analysis uses new data that's just been made available from one of the UK's largest and longest-running surveys, the Labour Force Survey. Every three months, the LFS asks 100,000 people about their careers and income and, for the past 4 years (thanks largely to political pressure from bestCourse4me), they've also asked where they went to uni.

That means that for the first time we get a true picture of how much difference it makes where you studied.

The first thing we learn is that, whatever uni you go to, you are likely to earn more almost from the moment you leave. The average (median) salary of graduates is higher than non-graduates at every stage of their careers - even at age 20.

Also, the chances of a non-graduate reaching a senior management role or a professional career are less than one in six, but around 60% of graduates do get to those top jobs. What's more, the graduates in those jobs get paid far better on average.

The shocking fact though is that there are only a handful of universities in the UK where it matters more where you've studied than how well you did before you got to uni.

Graduates who went to Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, LSE and perhaps a couple of others earn around a fifth more than other graduates - let alone people who didn't go to uni at all - when they start their careers and it rises to over two-fifths more by the time they're 55.

However, there are over 150 unis in the UK and, with the possible exception of those very few, the facts prove it: your future has far more to do with you than it does with them.

There are far more important things determining whether you'll get a job, what job you'll get and how much you earn. Sure, graduates from some of the other universities that do well in league tables - the Russell Group universities - earn nicely, but when you consider you need higher grades to get in, it seems their salaries have more to do with their abilities and school grades than the fact they went to a 'good' uni.

Where in the country you live is a big factor too. If local unemployment is higher than average, graduates get hit by it too (although they're more protected than non-graduates).

The course you study also makes a difference. A separate study recently showed how courses including medicine (no surprises there), maths, economics, law and engineering were all good for earnings.

But that just brings us back to what we mean by 'good'. Very few people study a dance degree because it'll make them rich. There are more ways to measure success.

There are two really important lessons from bestCourse4me's study.

The first is that uni can transform anyone's life. It's not for everyone, but for those from a poorer background, it can be a key to a happier, healthier, wealthier and more fulfilled life. We've got to stop thinking that posh unis with posh students are somehow 'better' than the rest.

We've got to recognise that different kinds of unis help different people and if any so-called 'good' unis are genuinely doing better, then they should be more open to students from all backgrounds.

Secondly, if the big difference to your future is you, it's all the more important to find a university that's right for you and not one that fits someone else's idea of 'good'.

This is why bestCourse4me did its study. The data has helped them build the tool on their website that helps you work out which course and where might lead you lead wherever you want to go.

With the deadline for 2017 university applications coming up soon, let's hope students look at the facts, not the reputation.