University degrees – are they worth the cost?

college graduates group

By Heather Cameron

Often cited as the best path to a successful career, university degrees continue to come under the spotlight with questions over their actual value, particularly with tuition fees now starting to increase.

Millions of young people who received their exam results last month will be weighing up their options. But what was perhaps once a fairly straightforward decision for many, is made far more complex by the modern financial burden of undertaking a degree, coupled with the availability of alternative routes without the prospect of accruing tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt in the process.

Cost

It certainly isn’t a cheap option to pursue a university degree. For 2017, many colleges/universities across the UK will be able to charge tuition fees of up to £9,250. And this doesn’t include the living costs of student life. The National Union of Students (NUS) has estimated that the average annual cost of living in England (outside of London) for students is £12,056.

Recent YouGov Omnibus research, which surveyed more than 500 current students and recent graduates, found that one in three recent graduates disagreed that the “costs of going to university were worth it for the career prospects/learning I gained”. It also identified ‘significant pessimism’ among both graduates and students over loans and whether they will ever be free of the burden of repayments during their working life. A large proportion (41%) don’t expect to ever pay off their student loan.

However, it was also noted that many recent graduates may have false expectations about how much they will have to pay back. More than four in ten (41%) said they didn’t understand how the interest rate on student loans works.

Research into the number of ‘contact’ hours a student receives over the course of their degree has been suggested to support the opinion that it is not good value for money. The average humanities student will have around 10 hours per week of scheduled ‘contact’ time in lectures and seminars, although it is often less. And there is much variation across subject areas, which is not reflected in tuition fees. According to an economics lecturer at the New College of the Humanities in London, “It certainly seems like humanities students are subsidising Stem [science, technology, engineering and maths] students.”

Job prospects

In addition to the cost of doing a degree featuring in the decision to pursue this path, the employment prospects following a degree have also received attention.

A recent study from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that there is a great deal of diversity among graduate earnings. While almost all institutions have graduates with earnings above the 20th percentile of the non-graduate earnings distribution, and most institutions have graduates with earnings above the non-graduate median, graduate earnings for men at more than one in 10 universities were lower than for non-graduates. And earnings for graduate women were found to be worse at nine institutions of the 166 included.

The findings also show that that graduates who came originally from wealthier backgrounds earned significantly more than their poorer counterparts ten years after graduation, even if they had studied the same course at the same institution.

This also raises questions over the value of a degree, particularly for those students from poorer backgrounds.

Having a degree certainly doesn’t guarantee a job with a competitive salary at the end of it, or indeed even a job at all as previous research has shown. Nevertheless, the IFS findings do highlight that higher education does pay for the majority, with graduates more likely to be in work and earn more than non-graduates.

Satisfaction

Satisfaction with degrees among students has shown to be relatively high overall. The latest annual Student Academic Experience Survey reveals that most students believe they are learning ‘a lot’ and perceptions of teaching quality are rising.

However, the survey also shows there continues to be a downward trend in perceptions of value, which has been highlighted as a particular concern. The percentage of students who think university is not value for money has almost doubled in the last five years.

The wellbeing of students also continues to be relatively low compared to the rest of the population and the majority oppose the high-fees model of funding.

Final thoughts

The cost of pursuing a degree along with the evidence on graduate earnings suggests that higher education may no longer be the leveller it once was perceived to be. Rather, it may appear that university degrees are once again becoming a path only for those from the richest households.

Clearly there is a lot for policy-makers to consider.


If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also like our previous post on graduate employment.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team. 

BYOD: Bring Your Own Device policy considerations for schools

Guest blog by April Bowman

Originally from Kansas, USA, April taught elementary school children before coming to Scotland to continue her academic study. She is currently in her final semester of study of the MPP Public Policy Programme at the University of Stirling where her policy specialism has been education policy and teaching practice. April has been with our Knowledge Exchange team for the last two weeks on a voluntary work experience placement.


I used to teach at a school in Las Vegas that had a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy. These policies are becoming more widespread, especially since so many of us now carry our own  phones, tablets, and laptops around with us.

The ever-present technology allows us to be as connected and informed as we want, at any time that we choose. Sometimes, adults lament over how members of the younger generations are glued to their technology.  But BYOD (also sometimes called BYOT – Bring Your Own Technology) policies at schools can help to keep kids engaged by allowing them to interact with education content, rather than merely the latest clickbait.

7469170810_deaf87df6f_oThe benefits of BYOD

Schools and classrooms all over the UK are embracing BYOD, and employers are too. There are many documented benefits of BYOD including:

  • Classroom management – BYOD can be used as a reward or privilege to encourage positive student behaviour. This type of behavioural incentive can be used not only for individual students, but also for classes as a whole.
  • Connectivity – Integrating personal devices into school has the potential to increase engagement and connection between students, teachers, and parents.
  • Engagement – Many students always have a device with them. If you teach students how they can use the device for educational purposes at school, they may be more likely to access the same content outside of school.
  • Cost savings – If students can bring their own device, the school won’t have to buy a device for that student. This however is a controversial point of BYOD (see below).
  • Saves time – Students are already familiar with their personal device, so they spend more time learning about content and less time learning how to use a new device.

Elementary school students raising hands. View from behind.The BYOD challenges

Of course, BYOD can also present challenges. Some of these include:

  • Technology funding – Some critics believe that the money saved by not having to purchase a large number of devices will have to be spent supporting the network for the students’ own devices. In addition, money will also have to be found to fund learning content tailored for electronic devices.
  • Technology access  – Some argue that BYOD in practice highlights student socio-economic inequality. Not only will students be able to perceive their peers as being more or less advantaged, based on their ownership of a device, but those without a device may be placed at an educational disadvantage if they cannot access the learning content.
  • Data security – This is one of the more complex challenges in the BYOD debate. How can schools ensure that a network’s data is secure? Is your school’s wi-fi network equipped to support numerous devices at the same time?  What happens when a student’s NSFS (Not Safe For School) personal photos/messages get hacked through the network? Schools need to be prepared to take preventative measures to ensure that the network is secure—and be prepared to respond when security is breached. This may require hiring additional IT specialists.
  • Academic honesty – Of all the challenges that BYOD brings, this seems to be one of the greatest concerns for educational institutions. Owning a device doesn’t necessarily make a student more likely to cheat, but it certainly makes it easier, and potentially more difficult for teachers and administrators to prove (or even be aware of).
  • Parent concerns – Parents may be hesitant or unwilling to send their child to school with a costly possession. Some fear the device may be stolen or damaged – which of course raises questions about liability. Most school-wide BYOD policies emphasise that students bring devices at their own risk, and that the school cannot be held liable for a stolen or damaged device. However, if a teacher accidentally knocks it off a desk or another student throws it into the classroom fish tank, schools may find themselves in a more complicated predicament.

The Education Network (NEN) has produced a guidance note on BYOD which discusses the issues and risks in more detail.

technologyBYOD and STEM

The discussion around BYOD feeds into the wider area of technology in education. Across the UK, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) has become increasingly important. As jobs in STEM sectors grow, schools are eager to train the next generation of STEM employees. Naturally, technology is not only a tenet of STEM education, but technology skills are a necessity for young people to thrive in the present and the future. BYOD policies in schools are an important component of meeting the need for technology-savvy students.

Final thoughts

Choosing BYOD policies that work for schools can be a complex process. Classrooms, schools, local education authorities, and government agencies must consider how to design their policies to enhance student learning and skills, while ensuring that the policy protects the students and staff from harm and legal conflict.


CESG, the National Technical Authority for Information Assurance within the UK has produced guidance for public authorities on considering the security aspects of BYOD.

Read some of our other blogs on education:

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in public and social policy are interesting our research team.

Idox sponsors RTPI research excellence awards

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Idox is pleased once again to be supporting the RTPI Awards for Research Excellence for 2016.

The awards are intended to:

  • recognise the best spatial planning research from Royal Town Planning Institute accredited planning schools
  • highlight the implications of academic research for policy and practice
  • recognise the valuable contribution of planning consultancies to planning research
  • promote planning research generally

Submitted research and its potential implications for planning policy and practice can relate to anywhere in the world (not just the UK and Ireland).  The five award categories are:

  • Academic Award
  • Early Career Researcher Award
  • Student Award
  • Sir Peter Hall Award for Wider Engagement
  • Planning Consultancy Award

As the UK’s leading provider of planning and building control solutions to local authorities, Idox actively engages with issues affecting the planning profession. Here at the Idox Information Service, we see our core mission as improving decision making in public policy, by improving access to research and evidence, and we are proud to be playing a part in these awards to promote academic, researcher and student excellence in this area.

This is the second time that Idox has given its support to the RTPI Awards for Research Excellence. In 2015, we sponsored the Student Award, won by Emma Thorpe, a student in the School of Planning and Geography at Cardiff University. Idox also sponsored the Sir Peter Hall Award for Wider Engagement Award, won by Dr Paul Cowie from Newcastle University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape. Next month, Paul Cowie will be making a guest contribution to our blog to describe the impact of winning the RTPI award.

This year, Idox will again be sponsoring the Student and Wider Engagement awards, as well as the Planning Consultancy award.

The closing date for applications to the awards is 31 May 2016. Further information and application forms are available here.


The Idox Information Service is the first port of call for information and knowledge on public and social policy and practice. For 40 years the service has been saving its members time and money, and helping them to make more informed decisions, improve frontline services and understand the policy environment. For more information see: http://informationservice.idoxgroup.com

In partnership with RTPI, the Idox Information Service has introduced an individual membership offer, which provides a 30% discount on the normal price.

How to support transgender pupils

Elementary school students raising hands. View from behind.

by Stacey Dingwall

Last week, Brighton College, a co-educational independent college, announced that it is to stop making a distinction between boys’ and girls’ uniforms. The announcement was made in order to support transgender or dysphoric (a condition where someone feels there is a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity, and which is unrelated to sexual orientation) students, by allowing them to choose between wearing a blazer, tie and trousers or skirt and jacket. The school stated that the decision was taken in reaction to “a changing society which recognises that some children have gender dysphoria and do not wish to lose their emotional gender identities at school”.

The school, which is the first in Britain to make such a move, has been praised for its decision by parents, and claims to have received messages from other schools who are considering following their lead. While the school’s announcement has been widely covered by the press as a landmark decision, it was interesting to note that the reaction from the students themselves has been more muted. Speaking to The Independent, one 17 year old pupil suggested that it hadn’t really been seen as a “big deal” among students, who she views as a more “open-minded generation”. A difference in attitudes between generational groups was also evident in the results of a 2015 Huffington Post/YouGov poll of 1,000 American adults: 54% of respondents aged 18-29 believed parents should allow their children to identify as a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth, a statement that only 29% in the 65+ age group agreed with.

Unfortunately, recent research indicates that there is still some way to go in providing effective support for transgender people, including in schools. When taking evidence for their recently published report on transgender equality in the UK, the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee heard that transgender, and gender-variant, pupils and their families face particular challenges at school, in terms of:

  • recording a change of name and gender
  • bullying
  • inclusion in sport
  • access to toilets.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) also highlighted research which indicates that 91% of boys and 66% of girls who identify as transgender have experienced bullying or harassment at school. This is higher than the levels of discrimination experienced by lesbian and gay students, and can lead to transgender pupils experiencing mental health problems and dropping out of education early.

The evidence submitted to the Committee’s inquiry suggests that the example of Brighton College is very much the exception, with the support for transgender pupils in schools across England reported to be ‘uneven’. Susie Green of Mermaids, an organisation which provides family and individual support for teenagers and children with gender identity issues, suggested that some schools were adopting a “victim mentality”, seeing the transgender student as the problem and wanting to “get rid” of, rather than accommodating, them and addressing the wider issues.

Several witnesses argued that schools should provide better support as part of their Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) curriculum. It was noted however, that PSHE is not currently statutory, although the Commons Education, Health, Home Affairs and Business committees argue that this should be changed. The Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, contributed her view that just because something is statutory, “[does not mean] it is going to be taught well.”

While political wrangling over the issue continues, the most important thing to ensure is that pupils are being supported as effectively as possible. Concluding their report, the Commons Women and Equalities Committee stated that more needs to be done in order that young people and their families get sufficient support at school, and that schools must ensure they are compliant with their legal obligations towards pupils across all protected characteristics, including that which relates to transgender people, and especially gender-variant young people. The Committee recommended that the government should consider the inclusion of training on these protected characteristics in its review of initial teacher training, and that trans issues (and gender issues generally) should be taught as part of PSHE.

On a practical level, writing in the Guardian, teacher Allie George suggested several ways in which classrooms can be made a safe and inclusive space for transgender pupils:

  • Creating a safe environment whether teachers are aware of transgender pupils in their school or not. This allows pupils who may be questioning their gender identity the space to do so
  • Have a seating plan that reflects pupils’ ability or current/target grades, as opposed to a boy-girl plan
  • Recognise transphobic behaviour and address it, educating pupils why this is unacceptable
  • Respect a transgender pupil’s choice of name
  • Provide safe spaces for transgender pupils, particularly in terms of bathroom access.

 

If you liked this blog post, you might also want to read our previous posts on equalities and diversity issues.

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in policy and practice are interesting our research team.

Graduating into a brighter future?

Image from Flickr user Luftphilla, licensed under Creative Commons

by Stacey Dingwall

Post-recession, the employment situation for UK graduates has not been great. Following the economic crash, headlines and statistical releases alike screamed about how bad it was out there for the recently graduated. Graduates were portrayed as either unemployed or underemployed, i.e. forced to accept roles for which their qualifications were not required or unpaid internships. With the end of the recession however, has the situation improved?

The graduate job recession

In 2010, the number of graduates in full-time work, three months post-graduation was 51% – its second-lowest level since 2003 (57%). And in 2009 The Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) was reporting that the number of graduate vacancies being advertised had fallen by up to a quarter since before the recession.

With record numbers of graduates now competing for each vacancy, and competing not only with their own graduating class but also with earlier cohorts, it could have been concluded that the era of the traditional graduate employment route was on its way out.

A return to form?

According to recent figures, however, things are looking up. Previewing the second 2015 update of its Graduate Recruitment survey, AGR describes the current graduate market as ‘buoyant’, and notes that the findings of the previous survey indicated an 11.9% increase in graduate vacancies on the previous year. These findings are backed up by the September 2014 edition of the Higher Education Careers Services Unit’s (HESCU’s) What do graduates do, which described the employment prospects for 2012/13 graduates as ‘dramatically improved’ compared to those of their immediate predecessors, with their unemployment rate six months after graduating down at 7.3% from the previous year’s 8.5%.

Additionally, the most recent release of the High Fliers graduate recruitment study suggests that those graduating in 2015 are doing so into the “most attractive graduate market in a decade”, and predicts 8% more vacancies than the previous year. It also notes that the class of 2015 are the first to graduate having paid tuition fees of up to £9,000 per year; this has led to the end of the image of students merely partying their way through their time at university, with the majority now focused on securing a promising career for themselves from as early as first year.

The new face of the graduate job

The prospect of graduating with tens of thousands of pounds of debt appears to be proving quite the motivation for today’s students. Rather than waiting until their final year to seek out internships and careers advice, High Fliers reports that firms are now taking on first year undergraduates in placement roles. Building up a relationship with a desired employer as early as possible is now the key way of securing a job post-graduation according to the report, with those with little or no work experience described as having “no chance” of receiving the offer of a place on a firm’s graduate programme.

AGR’s chief executive Stephen Isherwood has also pointed towards this trend, suggesting that graduate recruitment is being replaced with ‘student recruitment’, as those leaving university face competition from those still at university who have already been hired by employers for apprenticeships or have succeeded in finding an employer to sponsor them through the rest of their studies.

Another issue, as highlighted by Gerbrand Tholen, is the changing definition of what constitutes a graduate job. He notes that the previous understanding of what made a graduate occupation (those that combined expertise, strategic and managerial skills and interactive skills) has been abandoned in favour of defining the extent to which the role utilises specialist, orchestration or communication expertise.

This has led to a blurring between the lines of graduate and non-graduate roles, and also issues with compiling official statistics on the number of graduates employed in each arena. In 2014, the director of High Fliers, Martin Birchall, criticised the Office for National Statistics for not updating their definition of a graduate job since 2002, after they released data which suggested that 47% of recent graduates were not working in jobs which required a higher education qualification. This issue is further compounded by the issue of ‘over-education’ and ‘under-employment’, and the question of whether employers have been able to benefit from a more highly skilled workforce.

The graduate class problem

An important thing to keep in mind is that reporting on graduate labour market trends tends to focus primarily on the most general of findings – considering graduates as a homogenous group. This is particularly true in terms of the social backgrounds of graduates: research has found, and is continuing to find, significant differences in the labour market experience for graduates from working class backgrounds and their more socially privileged backgrounds. Until this much wider issue of a lack of social mobility within the graduate labour market can be addressed, it is perhaps too early to describe the situation as ‘buoyant’ – at least for everyone.


 

The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on education and employment trends; to find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

Further reading on the topics covered in this blog *

‘Graduate jobs’ in OECD countries: development and analysis of a modern skills-based indicator (LLAKES research paper 53)

What do graduates do? Employment review, IN Graduate Market Trends, Autumn 2014, pp12-14

Graduates’ experiences of non-graduate jobs: stop gaps, stepping stones, or dead ends?, IN Graduate Market Trends, Summer 2014, pp6-8

‘You have to be well spoken: students’ views on employability within the graduate labour market, IN Journal of Education and Work, Vol 27 No 2 Apr 2014, pp179-198

The gap between the proportion of young graduates from professional backgrounds who go on to a “graduate job” six months after graduating and young graduates from non-professional background

We need to talk about graduates: the changing nature of the UK graduate labour market

*Some resources may only be available to members of the Idox Information Service

Careering into the future

The New Year typically provokes reflection in people, particularly in areas of their lives such as relationships (lawyers report seeing a significant increase in enquiries about divorce at the start of January) and employment. On the 5th of January, the day that most of the country returned to work after the festive break, Scottish recruitment website s1jobs.com went down for a period due to the volume of traffic they were receiving, as people considered their options for change on what was dubbed ‘the most depressing day of the year’.

This quest for change looks set to continue throughout the year, rather than fall by the wayside at the end of the month along with the rest of people’s New Year resolutions. As reported by the Chartered Institute of Personal Development (CIPD), a survey by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) found that over a third (37%) of respondents are planning to leave their current job this year, a significant increase on the 19% who expressed the same intention a year earlier.

For those looking to make a complete career change, research published by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) at the end of 2014 may make interesting reading.

Careers of the Future presents a list of jobs which, it is suggested, will be crucial for the UK job market over the next decade. The 40 roles were identified through an analysis of the UK jobs market, and based on the following indicators:

  • Pay: how much do people earn on average in the job?
  • Job opportunities: how much is the job expected to grow in terms of the number of people employed, and which jobs have the greatest recruitment demand?
  • Business need: which jobs do employers say are difficult to fill because of lack of candidates with the right skills and experience?

The report groups the identified ‘key’ roles for the future according to the following sectors: agriculture; business and finance; construction; education; health and care; information technology; manufacturing, installation and maintenance; protective services; science, engineering and technology; and transport and logistics. From these, 12 jobs are identified are as being those that present people, particularly young people, with a good mix of opportunity, reward and long-term potential:

  • Care worker
  • Construction project manager
  • Electrician
  • Farmer
  • IT business analyst
  • Mechanical engineer
  • Nurse
  • Police officer
  • Programme and software development professional
  • Sales account manager/business development manager
  • Secondary school teacher
  • Train and tram driver.

There are no real surprises on this list; more care workers and nurses are needed to reduce the demand placed on current staff by an increasingly ageing population, while the advent of ‘big data’ and apps has made software development “one of the top five most in demand jobs globally”.

The importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills, something we have looked at on the blog previously, is also in evidence on the list. Engineers and electricians are part of a STEM workforce that, while identified as being ‘critical’ to the future of the UK economy, is currently facing a shortfall of around 400,000 graduates annually.

One surprising omission from the list may be identified: lawyer. While shortfalls of new students have been reported in the news for a number of the roles included on the list, concerns over the number of students undertaking law degrees haven’t been raised since 2011. Although the majority of its predictions for what 2015 would look like were wrong (the world is, sadly, still waiting for hoverboards and food rehydrators), Back to the Future Part II did predict the abolition of lawyers by this year. While this is obviously also wide of the mark, it’s certainly interesting to see that law isn’t deemed a key future profession – especially as it is one of the professions (alongside medicine – another omission from the list) that parents would traditionally encourage their children to aspire to join.

Despite the absence of lawyers and doctors on the list, the inclusion of nurses, farmers and secondary school teachers on this forward-looking list suggests that the future may be somewhat more traditional and less radical than the predictions of film-makers 30 years ago!


Further reading

The Idox Information Service has a wealth of research reports, articles and case studies on careers, employment and skills needs. Some further recent reading on the topic includes:

Engineering and technology: skills and demand in industry – annual survey 2014

The extent and cyclicality of career changes: evidence for the UK

Remember the young ones: improving career opportunities for Britain’s young people

The impact of economic perceptions on work-related decisions, IN Journal of Career Assessment, Vol 22 No 2 May 2014

Better quality jobs (The CLES 10)

N.B. Abstracts and access to journal articles are only available to members.

A new era in UK Higher Education

‘The UK has witnessed the dawn of a new era in Higher Education’
Dr Tim Vorley University of Sheffield

college graduates groupOur colleagues in Grantfinder have produced a white paper called Achieving Higher Education Growth – An Overview of International Competitiveness and Student Recruitment which provides insight into the challenges faced and strategies adopted by the UK Higher Education sector in order to grow. As well as a host of useful facts, findings and case studies, it makes the case that universities can only achieve high international rankings if they explore non-traditional funding sources and recruit and retain higher levels of students.

Download the report here.

Grantfinder is an all-encompassing funding solution, providing bespoke grants and policy information services to a wide range of organisations in the UK’s public, private and voluntary sectors. Click here for more information on our bespoke sites for local government, housing associations, colleges and universities, health organisations and emergency services…

Can Pisa be trusted?

exam hall

by Stacey Dingwall

The increasing influence of the triennial Programme for International Assessment (Pisa) results was evident at the end of 2013 as headlines around the world anticipated their arrival. First carried out in 2000, the worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Development (OECD) assesses  15 year olds’ performance on reading, maths and science. The OECD argues that rather than being used to ‘rank’ countries in terms of their performance, Continue reading