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The UK’s universities are in crisis – but does the degree still hold value?

In her monthly All About Eve column, Eve Tawfick discusses university education...

Britain’s universities are facing a dire cash crisis. There are fears that the prime minister will slash the intake of international students even further as it is forecast that 40 per cent of universities are to run budget deficits this year. Overseas students are the most lucrative source of income for universities and pay a premium to study in the UK. Students who obtain a British degree are sought after in the international job market, but nationally the graduate market is saturated.

Scores of eager graduates expect that their degrees will ‘open doors’, yet aside from those who study law, medicine and other classical subjects – the UK job market is a gruelling place to make a future. If the graduate is lucky, after a tiresome three-tier interview process, they might get an entry-level job paying £25K a year and slowly climb up to the national average salary of £34K – barely enough to keep a household running.

Students at a graduation ceremony
Students at a graduation ceremony

Professor Nick Braisby, the Buckinghamshire New University vice chancellor, claims that there is ‘scope’ for a ‘modest’ increase of fees to £9,750 to prevent a collapse and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has made a U-turn on scrapping university fees altogether. There is nothing ‘modest’ about charging already struggling students extra money in a financial climate that has most Brits dithering over the price of baked beans. If the state wants the public to work, consume and keep the economy turning - the first place to look is an increase in wages. It would also be prudent to mention that a degree needs to hold value in the first place, lest it’s allure should be lost altogether as more and more graduates line up at the job centre, clutching certificates no more useful than toiler paper.

This education ‘crisis’ comes as Oxford University unveiled a £202million project for a Life and Mind building redevelopment, the largest construction endeavour the prestigious institution has undertaken. Glasgow University has splashed £86million on a new research hub extension and Manchester Metropolitan University has dropped a cool £75million on a new science and engineering building. Earlier this year Cambridge University made the news after revealing their undoubtedly cost-effective sculpture to commemorate Alan Turing.

The average employability rate for UK graduates is 65 per cent, with graduates finding work or continuing with higher education after getting their degree. The remaining 35 per cent, which amounts to millions of pounds in student loans, fees and living expenses – do not make use of their degree. Elitism within the workplace plays a part in employability rates with ‘red brick’ graduates more likely to be hired, and certain professions hiring from their peers. Politics is largely constructed of factory-grade, upperclassmen – a veritable spiderweb of Etonians and Oxford graduates with a similar lineage of stuffed suits behind them.

Access courses have increased entry into UK universities, diminishing the value of the A-Level. Courses that were once considered vocational are now degree-level subjects. Thousands of graduates are herded like sheep into the auction house that is Britian’s job market, thoroughly disheartened after applying for thousands of positions they should be qualified for. Employers look for unicorns – those who have somehow accumulated enough work experience alongside relevant qualifications. Graduates are expected to work for free in ‘internships’ which are really just a free source of labour for large corporations.

In a way the ministers are correct, the system is in dire need of an overhaul – one that entitles a students to reap the benefits of indebting themselves for most of their working lives. One that promises more than a thousand unanswered LinkedIn applications. Students shouldn’t be paying more – unless they are getting more in return.

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