Degrees now worth 10% less than in 1993

ONS figures show people with degrees earn 85% more than other workers - that's 10% down on 18 years ago. Fuel to the anti-degree brigade's fire, wethinks.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 24 Aug 2011
Now that degrees are about to cost the equivalent of a small island off the Scottish coast, there’s been plenty of debate over whether there’s any point going to university any more. And new figures out from the Office of National Statistics have hardly come to the aid of the pro-degree brigade: according to a new report, one in five graduates now earns less on average than those with GCSE or equivalent qualifications. Are degrees really worth forking out nine grand a year for?

According to the figures, the number of graduates ending up in lower-skilled jobs has almost doubled, from 9% in 1993, to 17% last year. And while in 1993, almost 70% of graduates went into high-skilled professions like engineering, accounting or, er, doctoring; just 57% went into those jobs in 2010. That’s a fall of 11.7%. Those in middle-skilled jobs, like building inspectors, nurses and electricians, has also risen, from 31% in 1993, to 41% last year.

But figures can be misleading: the ONS also pointed out that employees with a ‘minimum of a degree’ still earn, on average, 85% more than other workers – although admittedly, that’s less than the 95% extra earned by graduates in 1993. And the good news is that you don’t necessarily need a degree to be able to work in a highly-skilled profession: according to the figures, in 2010, 7% of people employed in professions like management, for example, had no qualifications whatsoever.  

Now obviously (and bearing in mind that it’s GCSE week), figures like this are sure to raise the hackles of Outraged of Milton Keynes and chums, who will complain about exams getting easier and the education system failing to teach real skills, etc etc. But bear in mind that, while the skills shortage is very much in evidence, it’s not necessarily the fault of the education system that people with degrees are finding it difficult to get high-skilled jobs. Part of the reason behind the fall is that the jobs market has taken such a kicking over the last few years that there simply aren’t enough high-skilled jobs to go round. Similarly, employers’ demands have become a lot more stringent since 1993: profession which didn’t require qualifications back then may well need a degree or equivalent these days.

Still: with the cost of university rising, chances are that people are going to look for new ways to build up the experience prospective employers will want, thus (hopefully) building up a more diverse workforce. Which, for employers, can be no bad thing.

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