29/04/2012 17:23 BST | Updated 29/06/2012 06:12 BST

Five Harsh Realities About Higher Education

At this time of the year, teenagers are busy studying for exams - keenly aware of the importance of good grades when trying to secure a place at the university of their choice. Although as a parent you might be a firm believer in the benefits higher education can offer, you might also be feeling more than a little wary about what advice to give to these youngsters.

Why? Perhaps because you are aware of the following harsh realities.

Harsh reality #1: A university degree is no longer a guarantee of a job

Gone are the days when having a degree meant you could get a job if you wanted one. Nowadays, graduate unemployment stands at around 20%. At the same time, higher education is a prerequisite for most decent jobs -- a vicious circle.

Harsh reality #2: Higher education is expensive

Tuition fees across most of the UK will increase from a max of £3,375 in 2011/12 up to £9,000 from 2012/13. Most students will have to take out a significant student loan (up to £50K) to finance their studies. Depending on the career they choose, it may take them the rest of their working life to repay it. With this in mind: would you advise young people to study a traditional academic subject or one that could make them more employable?

Harsh reality #3: Job prospects vary widely across subjects

There are more than 1,200 separate degree subjects and over 50,000 course combinations within the UCAS scheme. In addition, the long-term career prospects for some are significantly better than others - resulting in a decision-making process that can be both complex and overwhelming.

Harsh reality #4: The quality of higher education varies significantly

There are 165 Higher Education institutions in the UK and the quality of education on offer varies considerably across them. Given the imminent increase in tuition fees, students need to ensure they get good value for their money. This does not only mean minimising the costs but also maximizing the benefits.

Harsh reality #5: What worked well in the past might not work in the future

We live in a fast-changing environment. Technological advancements and globalization are the two major forces behind the labour market transformation. As new professions spring up, older, more established roles are becoming obsolete. Advice based on our own experiences might be too narrow - most of us have a good working knowledge confined to one or two sectors.

The gist of these Harsh Realities is that the benefits of higher education now come at a significant cost to the students. It is more important than ever before to empower them so that they can make informed decisions about their future.

At the same time, national funding for face-to-face careers guidance is radically reduced.

So is there anything you can do to help them? Yes, there is.

Here are three key strategies:

• help them identify their strengths,

• encourage them to explore their passions and interests and,

• assist them in understanding the long-term career prospects of their choices.

We really don't want this generation to end up with big debts around their necks and jobs they don't enjoy. We need to provide them with the tools and the confidence to make informed decisions that will get them off to a good start.