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Why Going to Uni Is Not the Best Option

Last updated December 4th, 2018
Group of students taking notes in lecture

For many of us, the first step onto our chosen career ladder usually involves studying for an industry-relevant qualification. As competition for professional roles grows across many industries, acceptable relevant qualifications usually reflect higher-education level study, through a degree or degree-level equivalent qualification.

First investigations into appropriate qualification routes often involve trawling the web to find relevant university courses. Found a few? So far so good, but don’t forget that the traditional degree pathway to career opportunities certainly isn’t the only one – and neither is it necessarily the best route for everyone. So, aside from the availability of relevant courses, what else might make uni a poor option?

1. Cost

University fees are a national issue, regularly discussed in Parliament and even becoming an election issue in 2016, largely because of the grave impact costs are having on university study (The Guardian).

With universities in England charging potentially £9,250 a year in tuition fees, the cost of pursuing career qualifications through traditional degree routes has risen steeply; firstly when fees were introduced in 1998, and again with considerable fee increases in 2012. Calculating the cost of university education is possible using online resources such as the University Guide, which offers a helpful but sobering reality-check.

Because even as you’re exploring eye-watering tuition fees, other costs stack up alongside. For instance, you’ll need to factor in the cost of accommodation, as even campus accommodation has become more expensive as the cost of living continues to rise across the UK, largely thanks to Brexit.

Of course, student loans are available, but from September 2017, these no longer offer reduced interest rates, instead coming in at a total of 6.1% (Student Loan Co.) – a rate significantly higher than many commercial loans.

Overall, when you factor in tuition fees, funding living costs whilst studying, deferring earning potential whilst studying (due to the length of most university courses), plus the unknown cost of delaying getting onto that career ladder, going to university can turn out to be prohibitively expensive: current university study can result in debts of around £69,000 (The Guardian, 2017).

And that’s without even questioning whether a traditional degree offers value for money …

2. Practical, on-the-job experience

Let’s consider that career-ladder delay from another angle as, alongside the financial impact of deferring salary whilst learning, the fact that university courses are often more academic than practical could mean you’re also deferring chances to gain actual work experience. For many university students, work experience is essential for being properly equipped for their career, and getting this from a course would bring some useful extra value for the money spent on studying the qualification.

Some universities already recognise the need for practical elements of study, particularly in sectors such as health and education, with an increasing number of university teaching and nursing degrees now including more practical, institutional experience as part of the courses.

However, university study relating to other industries (such as marketing and event management) are often more weighted towards theoretical rather than practical learning, or offer classroom-based “practicals” instead of “live project” experience, which essentially limits opportunities for practical, on-the-job experience and can also limit the potential value of a university degree.

3. Over-qualification = under-experienced

Although some sectors, such as education, science and health, increasingly require professionals to have Masters degrees to access higher salary levels, many Masters and PhD graduates find themselves deemed ‘overqualified’ if they decide to move into other sectors.

In a recent Guardian Anonymous Academic article, a PhD student shared her disappointment in discovering that, after years of her hard work immersed in career-focused university study, “employers external to the university don’t want a PhD, they want five years of industry experience.”

Event Academy graduate Chirag Patel, Freelance Production and Content Manager, also found that, despite years of top-level university study, it was experience which counted when he was applying for event management roles:

“My degrees are the last thing on my CV.  No one cares about my degrees or what I’ve done in my past, it’s what I’ve done in the last 6 months, my experience.”

4. Time

University degrees can take a considerable time – anything from two to three years or more. This time, as well as the money, forms part of your investment in your future (self and career).

However, many graduates find that investing the significant time required for university study actually puts them behind in the industry they want to enter, and can also add to a sense of anxiety, or even failure, if they decide to switch career path after a couple of years of studying or soon after graduating.

With most sectors offering entry opportunities through apprenticeships (and many even requiring graduates to start at this level) studying for years at university could be swapped for much shorter periods of study for an industry-relevant qualification, alongside as much work experience and volunteering as possible, enabling a more ‘work-ready’ outcome.

5. Invested interest

Of course, when you’re studying for a career-relevant qualification, you’re investing your time, money and also your aspirations into it. Whilst you’d hope that your education provider would invest the same interest in you, personally, it’s as well to be aware that this isn’t always the case! Although your university tutor might express interest in how you’re getting on during tutorials, on the whole universities tend to measure success at cohort and institutional levels.

It tends to be those smaller education providers, including those offering vocational qualifications and supporting / providing industry internships,  which measure success slightly differently: starting at the personal level. Providers such as Event Academy place students on an internship with a reputable company as part of their degree-alternative course, which means knowing, supporting and making a commitment to that student (as well as a careful match up with the company they’re placed with): investing in each student’s success.

6. Alternative forms of education

A 2017 Cosmopolitan article also explored whether university education is the right higher education option. In the experience of their writer, Laura Capon, when it came to furthering her education uni seemed to be the expected option – but it didn’t feel like the right option: “there seemed to be no other option for creative types.”

Ultimately, both Laura and her colleague Anna Lewis started to gain the education that led to their current careers in a creative industry through on-the-job training (in their cases through internships) rather than with university degrees.

And the irony is that many successful university graduates find that after committing years to university study, they emerge with a traditional degree (and costly student loan debt) only to have to apply for internship positions anyway, just to get relevant industry experience and a foot onto their chosen career path.

The Spectator has also reported on issues surrounding university education, speculating that whilst a university education has become so expensive it’s almost elitist, an alternative for those who opt out of uni should be the provision of industry-focused training: something that sectors such as Events are ahead of the game with.

Of course, getting career-ready by studying at university can be socially liberating and exciting, plus academically stimulating and challenging. But a key point to consider is that you don’t have to go to university to enjoy these aspects of mature education: vocational, industry-relevant degree-alternatives, particularly those run in major cities, can provide as much stimulation and even more industry-focused, practical experience and knowledge, plus a work-ready qualification and outlook, for much less time and money!

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