12/11/2012 10:57 GMT | Updated 12/11/2012 11:38 GMT

Is A Degree Worth The Money? In Hindsight, The Young And Unemployed Say 'No'

Decisions are always easier with hindsight and for some graduates struggling to find work, it's an expensive price to pay.

Questions were asked last week as to whether degrees are still a worthwhile financial investment after a report revealed graduate incomes have been steadily declining over the past decade.

Graduates are quickly having to come to terms with the fact a degree does not guarantee a job, let alone a career path. Despite calls for more students to study STEM subjects, physics graduate Samuel Davies says he would "absolutely not go to university" if he could choose again.

Davies, who is currently in Chile travelling, studied physics at Bath University and is adamant is degree was not worth the "time, effort or the cost".

"It was a complete waste of three years of my life and taught me very little useful real world skills," he told the Huffington Post UK.

"University taught me how to get good grades, not rock the boat too much and how to do the minimum amount of work required to get by.

"Eighteen months of travelling taught me a foreign language, self-reliance, confidence, daring and a lot of fundamental truths about human nature.

"And," he adds, "the travelling was much cheaper."

A study commissioned by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU) showed 40% of university leavers since 2009 are working in unskilled jobs, with an even higher number having to work unpaid. More than one in 10 graduates are experiencing "significant spells of unemployment".

Dom Travers studied biology at Bristol University and has been working in bars since graduating.

"My advice would be not to assume getting a good degree from a good university means you're guaranteed a job.

"I regret not making more of my degree and taking the approach that I had the rest of my life to try really hard with jobs in the holidays."

Some students are now turning to private universities to provide the higher education they desire, minus the hefty price tag. One for-profit institution, BPP University College, charges £5,000 a year to study, making its tuition fees some of the lowest in the UK.

In 2011, the university saw a 200% increase in applications within a year, suggesting students are willing to forgo traditional universities for a cheaper option.

Thomas Edward Kingston, a previous Theology student at University of London, changed universities after realising his degree would not help him to secure a job.

"I definitely reconsidered the value of my degree when the economic climate took a turn for the worst," he says. "I had chosen Theology as it was a subject I enjoyed reading about. However as employment started to get harder and harder to attain I started to think how relevant my degree would be to any job I was interested in.

"I had a look around and found BPP's accelerated Law degree and applied pretty much straight away, the fact they have high employment rates, a focus on preparing you for work and make it possible to complete a degree in two years was a no brainer."

Felix Mitchell, director of graduate recruitment company Instant Impact, insisted a degree was still the route to pursue. "University degrees are, in our eyes, incredibly important - they are evidence that a young person has valued their personal development and a clear marker of their intelligence that we can present to the businesses we work with.

"Although there is a case to be made the working world teaches more practical skills than academia, so long as employers prioritise university then it's very beneficial to go."

Many are bypassing university to forge their own way in the world, encouraging others to take the plunge and do the same.

"People have this stigma about not going to University or sixth form nowadays," says James Lyons, who founded his own company Switched-On Electrics, without going into further or higher education.

"University isnt for everyone; one of my mates did football studies and he failed. How do you fail football studies?

"I think it's stupid people going just for the sake of it - it's a waste of money. I knew that from what I wanted to do - I couldn't achieve my dreams by going to uni and getting all that debt."

Despite the experiences of these young people, and the high levels of unemployment, 96% of graduates still say they would "do it all again", according to the HECSU study, although it was carried out pre-tuition fees hike.

Jane Artess, research director at HECSU says: "What’s gratifying is that even in the wake of the recession, the onset of higher fees and large debts, graduates remain positive in the face of adversity with great confidence that their degree has been worth it."



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