University degrees have traditionally been touted as the best way to get a professional job with a great salary. However, with close to half of young people now moving on to higher education, graduates are now finding themselves competing in a market that’s increasingly crowded. According to a survey taken recently, one in ten employers stated that degrees are now essentially ‘pointless’. Over 40 percent of employers said that they valued relevant experience and vocational qualifications over a degree.

The question now is, with the rising tuition fees, is going to the university still worth it. Lucy Tobin, author of A Guide to Uni Life says that young people have started to question the value of university education. She says that attitudes towards degrees have changed drastically over the past several decades, from being a luxury to being a necessity. However, in case the degrees become more expensive, those gains could be reversed, she adds.

Rising Student Debt

Sarah Rotundo-Fergusson, who went to Lady Eleanor Holles School in Middlesex actually declined the offer of a place at Cambridge University for the opportunity to combine part-time study and work through the Open University. Sarah believes that she has managed to get ahead of her peers by not going down the traditional university route. Her friends that went to university are still finding it hard to get a foothold on the career ladder, but Sarah is the manager of a day nursery in Berkshire with a good salary and company car, and she is just 24. She also owns her own home.

Sarah says that some thought that she was crazy to work in a nursery for an annual salary of £11,000. However, she says that it meant that she qualified for financial assistance from the Open University to study for a degree in childhood and youth studies. She managed to achieve a 2:1 and she doesn’t have any student debt at all. She says that she believes that it was the biggest single factor influencing her decision.

Vocational Qualifications Vs. Degrees

Vocational growth has experienced phenomenal growth over the past several years, most notably in the 2-year foundation degrees offered at many FE colleges and universities. Such institutions focus on the skills required for the workplace but can be ‘topped up’ to degree level with one more year of study. John Hayes, skills minister is zealous about restoring the prestige that craftspeople formerly and £250m of additional funding has been pledged by the government for the creation of 75,000 additional apprenticeships over the next 4 years.

The question is, how do employers view young people with vocational qualifications compared to those that have degrees? According to Tanya de Grunwald, the founder of Graduate Fog, a careers advice website thinks that employers still quite sceptical of vocational qualifications, distance learning, and part-time degrees. However, Tanya believes that this is about to change. She says that the traditional university route has been assumed to be the best one for a long time, but as many young people continue acquiring degrees, many actually fear that the lack of one is a stigma. This is likely to change and the market will react by providing young people with more options.

Employers appear to be catching on. Deloitte, the business advisory firm that has a strong history of recruiting graduates recently announced Bright Start, which is an A-level entry training scheme. IBM, the global technology company has also launched an apprenticeship scheme recently. A law firm which specialises in probate lawyers also says that the firm can reach out to a wider set of talented young lawyers by taking on part-time paralegals who are also studying part-time.

Gaining Valuable Experience

The current economic climate is characterised by tough competition for jobs among graduates, which means that experience is just as important as qualifications. Jen Grafton, the alumni relations manager at the Girls’ Day School Trust, says that the traditional concept of a gap year, usually spent backpacking around Australia or trekking in the Andes may soon become extinct. Jen says that young people are increasingly using gap years to gain work experience and get internships so that they can have something extra to offer employers once they graduate.