Do degrees really help your chances of employment and an above average salary?

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The clarion call of successive governments, and most notably that of Tony Blair has long been ‘Education Education Education’. Getting people into higher education was considered to be the silver bullet to defeat unemployment and raise living standards, and students were encouraged to believe that a degree would not only heighten their chances of finding a job, but that the job would pay above the average and certainly more than those without a degree.

However statistics are increasingly showing this not to be the case. As more and more people get degrees, often in the arts and humanities rather than in a clearly defined professional field, the scope for both finding employment and making the degree pay off in salary terms seems to be narrowing.

According to the Department for Business, someone who comes out of university with a BA in history or philosophy will earn an average of only 2.3% a year more than if they'd bypassed university altogether and headed straight into the labour market at the age of 18. If that same person has studied the creative arts and design, figures show that they'd be 1% worse off than someone without a degree at all.

With so much emphasis on universities rather than vocational training, many skilled professions are now dominated by those who have come to Britain from abroad. The implied ease of finding a job with a degree has led people to take courses they find interesting rather than a subject that will equip them for a specific trade. And with such a glut of graduates coming onto the job market, just how much is the average degree worth to a potential employer?

1 in 10 graduates are unemployed six months after finishing their degrees, but that masks a deeper trend as over a third of graduates are employed in sectors that actually don’t require a degree. Should those looking for long term financial security then start to consider a wider range of options than just a university degree?

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