Why are universities being allowed to sell dud products?

Oct 20, 2016

What every graduate should know before signing up for university!

Our purchasing decisions are based on how well a product is likely to perform for us, aren’t they? They are driven by what we want to get out of that product or service, so why is this not the way it works when we buy an education?

We’re told that higher education isn’t shaped by consumer demands. There are restrictions and accepted do’s and don’ts based on tradition, but these traditions are robbing graduates of the ability to make proper choices about their futures.

Writing in the Times this week, director of the social market foundation Emran Mian said it is time universities came clean about graduate earnings. He said information that could help students make the right choice about where to study isn’t as readily available as one might think.

Oh, you can find plenty information about the course you want to study – stuff like what’s covered and the type of work you can do afterwards – but is that really sufficient to help you choose whether or not to make this huge financial commitment?

What should universities be telling us?

What would a student really want to know before deciding where and what to study? Or perhaps indeed, whether to go to university at all?

Well, they might want to know whether the institution or course subject will improve their employment or pay prospects, mightn’t they?

Analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) shows that for many graduates the likelihood is that it won’t. It shows that ten years on graduates from at least 23 universities are coming out £60k poorer to then earn less than non graduates. This is frightening.

There’s great disparity between institutions, too, as at the other end of the scale, at LSE, more than 10 per cent of graduates are earning £100,000 or more ten years on.

It matters what course you study too. Economics related degrees tend to render you better off (12 per cent of males and 9 per cent females are earning more than £100,000 then years on). If you study a creative arts degree you are no more likely on average to be earning more than non graduates.

Don’t choose your university course blindly

That’s all okay if you’re happy with this – but the problem is that students aren’t given this type of information before making their choices so do so blindly.

This needs to change, writes Mr Mian. They need to know how past students performed in the labour market to help them predict the likelihood of what the future holds for them.

Anticipating the protests of critics of marketisation, that the role of education should not be reduced to money, Mr Mian says, though this be true, students should be given the opportunity to decide for themselves. If their reasons for going to university is to increase their earnings, then they should be given the kind of information that will help them choose wisely as in any other consumer scenario.

We’ve said elsewhere (Why it’s all about employability) that if higher education was guided by the same principles that guide consumer products and services many institutions would have closed long ago. For sure.

The bottom-line is that graduates are coming out of the university thousands of pounds in debt and then struggling to find the graduate level employment they thought would be within reach. Instead they are often worse off than those who never went to university in the first place. Of course, we aren’t talking guarantees here, but likelihoods. If universities now begin to come clean on what the prospects are then at least a person can decide for themselves whether or not to risk it.

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