Is a university degree still valued by today’s employers?
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According to new research, nearly half of students and graduates in East Anglia regret going to university.
Findings by Barclays Apprenticeships claim that just over half say they do not need a degree for their current job, and 65 per cent of parents would encourage apprenticeships over a university degree.
The findings are echoed by the business economist Dr Andrew Sentance, chairman of the Essex Economic Commission, who claims that while our region has some of the best universities in the world, “not everybody wants to and is capable of a university education.” “We need a combination of work experience and apprenticeship or further education. The government is doing that, but its starting at a low base. Braintree has a good further education college, but in more rural areas it’s difficult to get a further technical education. We need an employer-led approach to skills development within education.”
One local businessleader banging the drum for apprenticeships is David Redhead, chairman of BSP International Foundations, a pile driving company based in Ipswich, and executive director of Tex Holdings, a group of five engineering companies worth around £45m. “I prefer to give young people apprenticeships, then if they’re showing quality work, we can fund them to do a degree and tie them into a deal to come back and work for us,” he said.
Mr Redhead didn’t get a degree himself, learning the ropes instead through a mechanical engineering apprenticeship with a local company in Ipswich.
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He says the apprenticeship route suited his natural passion to learn on the job - “As a kid, I was taking cars to bits and putting them back together, so I have a very mechanical mind,” he said.
But at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, academic director of widening participation Helena Gillespie points out that going to university is about much more than just learning the content of the course. “It’s about the experiences you gain, the friends you make, the skills you learn and the opportunities that become available to you such as studying abroad and internships. Whatever the degree you study you will develop important skills like working to deadlines, problem solving, independent thinking, team working, leadership skills, and effective communication. Many of the benefits also come from outside your studies, from joining societies to developing as a person and for many students, the people they meet at university are their lifelong friends.”
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While Mr Redhead says he doesn’t regret not going to university himself, he admitted: “I don’t know if I missed a good bit of social life! Graduates take a year off to travel and do stuff that I never got a chance to do.”
The Barclays Apprenticeships research also found 60 per cent of employers said they valued degree apprenticeships as highly as a university degree.
Michelle Pollard, managing director of Spider Fixed Fee Web Recruitment in Ipswich, isn’t surprised by this, and says there’s “no pot of gold” waiting at the end of a degree. “There are many sectors now, such as sales, when being a graduate is irrelevant and clients are favouring softer skills,” she explained. “The ability to communicate well is better than hiding behind worthless degrees.
She added that good graduates are still highly valued for life sciences, technology and accounting sectors. “But we want people who have worked part time while they were studying to prove they have a good work ethic.”