Having a degree in the UK no longer means that you have opportunities denied to the bulk of the population. With many graduates finding themselves shelf staking, long after they have graduated.

Conversely, unless your dream job is to work for minimum wage, you will still need a degree. Since many jobs will simply reject your job application out of hand, as you do not have a degree.

This does not apply to you if you are an entrepreneur, since you are not competing in the jobs market.

How did this come about?

In the past, going to university was a good bet, but everything has changed.

In the 1980s, only 15% of young people where in education or training after turning 18.1 Simply by being in this group you would have stood out from the crowed at any job interview. Just image answering the common interview question of:

Why should we hire you?

And answering with the following:

I have a Degree

And landing the job, simply because you have a degree, any degree.

Nowadays thing are completely different. As according to the Office for National Statics in 2017, 42% of those aged 21 to 64 and not in education had a degree.12 With degrees no longer being that scares, you can no longer stand out from the crowed for having a degree. Even when it comes to applying for shop jobs, some of your competitors will have degrees. Therefore, the correct answer to the question should be:

I have a Degree and [insert something to make you standout]

This still might not be enough to land you the job. The degree has really become a lottery ticket.

This phonon is call Degree Inflation. Since if everyone has a degree, then no one stands out for having a degree.

Yes, I know there are those that beat the system without a degree.

Many of them are from older generation who climb the career ladder before Degree Inflation took hold. They passed their A levels in the 1980s, back when qualifications really meant something, and never looked back.

Others have just gotten lucky and found a career route that does not require a degree. Alternatively, they have found ways of standing out that even the lack of a degree cannot demolish. If you one of these people please let me know your secret in the comments!

So what caused so many people to become graduates?

The rising number of graduates has resulted in a vicious cycle, which I like to call the graduate trap:

  • 1) Increasing numbers of graduates’ results in ever-growing competition for graduate jobs.
  • 2) Resulting in too many graduates for graduate jobs to accommodate.
  • 3) This forces graduates to take non-graduate jobs, displacing non-graduates. Since employers will always favour the more competitive candidates.
  • 4) Eventually so many graduates enter non-graduate jobs they become graduate jobs.
  • 5) The non-graduates end up going to university to compete, increasing the numbers of graduates.
  • 6) The cycle starts all over again.

Very soon, if not already, all reasonable jobs will be requiring degree level qualifications.

Where does this leave us?

To make use of your degree you will need to have relevant work experience or good connections. This has resulted in tough competition for work experience, let alone the job itself. With many companies’ offering low wage internships and unpaid volunteering instead of well-paying jobs. As why should they pay decent wages when they can have unpaid volunteers do it? That said, not all internship are like this, with many generally trying help people into a comparative career.

In some sectors, competition is so tough you cannot even volunteer for free!

university lecture

The cost of University for English students:

(Disclaimer: The information below may not be accurate, but is the best I could do.)

Tuition fees for UK students studying in the UK can cost anything up to £9,250 a year.7 This does not include paying for accommodation, living experiences and textbooks.7 It is estimated by Statista that students graduating in England in 2021 will have on averaged more than £45,000 worth of debt.2

Even if you only paid the tuition fees for a three-year degree course, you could be in debt by £27,750.

Some of these fees can be covered by loans from Student Finance England.8

1) Repaying student loans (Student Finance England)

If you are an English student starting university in the UK in 2021, you will be on repayment plan 2. 4 You will pay 9% of your income, when you earn over £27,295 a year, £2,274 a month, or £524 a week. 5 This loan is more akin to a tax than a traditional debt. The debt will be written off after 30 years from the April you were first due to repay. 6

Therefore, with some simple math you can work out roughly what repayments you are likely to make: (Assuming the amount paid was never enough to pay back the loan.)

Yearly earnings:You would be over the repayment fresh hold by:You would pay back per year:Over 30 years you would pay back:
£30,000£2,705£243.45£7,303.50 **

For larger figures, simply add:


2) Interest

Just to stand still you would have to earn enough to repay the interest on the loan.

Currently the interest on repayment plan 2 is calculated by combining the Retail Price Index and up to 3% interest. From the 1st September 2012 to the 30th September 2021, the interest applied for each year ranged from a low of 3.9% to a high of 6.6%.9

Assuming you only owned £27,295 in debt, you would have to make to stand still:

If you take the interest to be:You would have to repay per year to stand still:You would therefore have to earn to stand still:
3% (no Retail Price Index added)£818.85£36,393.1/3
3.9%£1,064.505£39,122.5/6 ***

Whereas if you take the Statista estimated of £45,000 worth of debt you would have to pay back:2

If you take the interest to be:You would have to repay per year to stand still:You would therefore have to earn to stand still:

3) How much would you have to earn over 30 years to repay the loan?

(These calculations assume the same yearly earrings over the 30-year period.)

If your debt is £27,295:

If you take the interest to be:You would have to earn per year over the next 30 years to pay off your student debt is:
3.9%£43,318.19/108 *****

If your debt is £45,000:2

If you take the interest to be:You would have to earn per year over the next 30 years to pay off your student debt is:

So can graduates earn enough to repay their student loans?

The simple answer is for most students is no.

The majority of students will consider themselves luckily if they earn anywhere near enough to pay back their loans. Since according to the UK government’s own figures for 2019, the median salary for graduates was only a round £35,000.10 This would leave the median student somewhere between £8,318 and £25,446 short per year of repaying their student loans.

This before you take into effect that this figure is an average over entire lifetime and that graduates from the 1980s should earn more. According to government’s Graduate outcomes for 2018-9, Median graduate earnings was only £24,500 three years after graduating rising to £31,100 after 10 years.11 It pretty clear that the majority of graduates will fail to pay off their student loans.

I think the government will come to regret this deal when student debt is written off. The authors of this agreement are probably hoping to be long dead by the time this come to light.

Stone Columns

I think we would be better off without the university system.

Just image it, a world without the university system, no student debt or university’s graduate taking non-graduates jobs. Instead, people going straight from college (or high school if you are an American) strait into the workforce. Colleges are varsity cheaper in time and money, especially since most people have to go to college to enter university. No longer would employers judged people on whether or not they have a degree.

Image what we could do with all those saving and three more years of tax revenue. We could pay off the national debt, instead of growing it. We could increase spending on the wealthier state, or introduce a four-day working week. Why not fund renewable to replace fusel fuels that are running out. Or just maybe we could fund industry and the like so that young people could have decent paying jobs.

Nevertheless, some fields of work would still require more specialised qualifications such as nursing. However, these qualifications would have only be valuable for a particular profession. This would be done by making it clear that the qualification has no transferable skills. Ironically, this is exactly how UK nursing degrees work since they are not seen as proper degrees.

As things stand, you could need a one-year conversion course or a three-year degree course to retrain. However, without the university system, college qualification would suffice.

Furthermore, colleges provide you with a much wider range of qualifications compared to your standard university’s degrees. You could for example take a mixture of science and humanity qualifications. Whereas at university you most choose wisely as they specialise in one or two subjects.

How to get there:

1) Limiting numbers of graduates

One obvious solution would be to limit the numbers of people going to university. However, this would lead to a generation being unfairly disadvantage when it came to employment. As they would have to go head to head with graduates from older generations.3 The reduction in revue would in many universities going bust, putting many professors out of work. However, given student debt this may be unavoidable.

2) Getting rid of the university system entirely!

Getting rid of the university system entirely suffers from the same problems as the one above, but be more server. However, in the long run we would be better off as a nation.

3) Free university

This would force the British government to face up to the cost of university, and what the country can actually afford. No more pretending that most student will be able to prepay their student loans.

4) My personal favourite: A complete overhaul

A better alternative would be to restructure the qualification gained at college into degrees. If these new degrees where made as hard as any current degree to pass, then employers would have no reason to disguise between the old and new degrees. The student would demonstrate an equal ability to pass.

This would allow us to get rid of the university system without putting future generations at a disadvantage.

Further information

If you are not convinced or want to learn more about the topic, I would highly recommend trying The Case against Education by Bryan Caplan. Such as how relevant is a history or psychology degree to your career prospects?3

By Arran Wilkins © 2021 (text only)


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Sources and notes

* Or your country’s equivalent college/high school qualification.

** Equation: £30,000 (earning) – £27,295 (repayment fresh hold) = £2,705 (taxable amount) divided by 100 times by 9= £243.45 (amount repaid) times by 30 (years) = £7,303.50 (repayment over 30 years)

*** Equation: £27,295 (debt) divided by a 100 times by 3.9 (interest) = £1,064.505 (repayment) divided by 9 times by 100= £11,827.5/6 (amount need) + £27,295 (repayment fresh hold) = £39,122.5/6 (earning)

***** Equation: £27,295 (debt) divided by 30 (years) = £909.5/6 (yearly repayments) divided by 9 time 100 = £10,109.7/27 + £27,295 (repayment fresh hold) + £5,913.11/12 (£11,827.5/6 interest (see interest answer) divided by 2 (interest reduction over time)) = £43,318.19/108 (earnings to repay student loan per year)

**** Normally I just see austerity as the government trying to get something for nothing. Such as not maintaining roads, to save tax money, leading to many potholes and higher car maintenance cost. Something you just have to pay for.

(1) BBC News, The symbolic target of 50% at university reached. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-49841620 [Accessed on 2nd November 2021].

(2) Clark, D. statista, Higher education in the UK – statistics & facts. Available at: https://www.statista.com/topics/6938/higher-education-in-the-uk/#dossierKeyfigures [Accessed on 14th November 2021].

(3) Caplan, Bryan. (Author) Robertson, Allan. (Narrator) The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money (Audible Studios, 2018) Amazon Audible, Available at: https://www.audible.co.uk/pd/The-Case-Against-Education-Audiobook/B07BH3X6XJ [Accessed on 14th November 2021].

(4) GOV.UK, Repaying your student loan. Which repayment plan you’re on. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/repaying-your-student-loan/which-repayment-plan-you-are-on [Accessed on 15th November 2021].

(5) GOV.UK, Repaying your student loan. When you start repaying. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/repaying-your-student-loan/when-you-start-repaying [Accessed on 15th November 2021].

GOV.UK, Repaying your student loan. How much you repay. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/repaying-your-student-loan/what-you-pay [Accessed on 15th November 2021].

(6) GOV.UK, Repaying your student loan. When your student loan gets written off or cancelled. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/repaying-your-student-loan/when-your-student-loan-gets-written-off-or-cancelled [Accessed on 15th November 2021].

(7) UCAS, UNDERGRADUATE TUITION FEES AND STUDENT LOANS. Available at: https://www.ucas.com/finance/undergraduate-tuition-fees-and-student-loans#how-to-apply-for-a-student-loan [Accessed on 15th to 16th November 2021].

(8) GOV.UK, Student finance. New full-time students. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/student-finance/new-fulltime-students [Accessed on 15th November 2021].

GOV.UK, Student finance. Eligibility. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/student-finance/who-qualifies [Accessed on 15th November 2021].

(9) GOV.UK, How interest is calculated – Plan 2. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/how-interest-is-calculated-plan-2 [Accessed on 17th November 2021].

(10) GOV.UK, Reporting Year 2020: Graduate labour market statistics. (Explore education statistics, 2021) Available at: https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/graduate-labour-markets [Accessed on 14th January 2022].

(11) GOV.UK, Tax Year 2018-19: Graduate outcomes (LEO). (Explore education statistics, 2021) Available at:

https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/find-statistics/graduate-outcomes-leo/2018-19#releaseHeadlines-tables [Accessed on 14th January 2022].

(12) Clegg, Richard. Office for National Statics, Graduates in the UK labour market: 2017. Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/articles/graduatesintheuklabourmarket/2017 [Accessed on 14th January 2022].

(Image one) PublicDomainPictures. Pixabay. Pixabay License. Available at: https://pixabay.com/photos/books-tunnel-fantasy-library-21849/ [Accessed on 15th November 2021].

(Image two) Nikolay Georgiev. Pixabay. Pixabay License. Available at: https://pixabay.com/photos/university-lecture-campus-education-105709/ [Accessed on 15th November 2021].

(Image three) StockSnap. Pixabay. Pixabay License. Available at: https://pixabay.com/photos/people-men-women-graduation-school-2562626/ [Accessed on 15th November 2021].

(Image four) Walter Frehner. Pixabay. Pixabay License. Available at: https://pixabay.com/photos/columns-building-massachusetts-5135499/ [Accessed on 15th November 2021].

1 Comment on “University is no longer a privilege, but the minimum qualification!

  1. Pingback: The cost of University for English students – A.W. Book Reviews

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