Degree or no degree: that is the question ?

Previously “education, education, education” and youngsters sold the dream of a degree passport to a secure future and a sign of an advanced nation competing on the world stage.

We then changed our minds and apprenticeships took centre stage.

With some employers apparently offering graduate level salaries to school leavers and degree sponsorships it must leave young people very confused. Other factors to be weighed up are the recent results fiasco and the unattractiveness of spending £9,000 per annum on a virtual degree, at least in this academic year alas.

So many influencers in the debate have agendas (hidden or otherwise), not to mention their own prejudices (overt or well hidden, even from themselves) so it is difficult to know who to look to for advice.

What I see from Prism’s perspective is a) the global competition from astonishingly well qualified people, products of nations which attach huge value to education b) the value that most UK employers place on bright people c) employers see academic achievement as an indication of “bright” i.e. intelligence, of a person’s trained use of intelligence and also of a level of ambition, tenacity and drive d) employers also believe that graduates, particularly those who left home to go to University, are often more rounded and more confident in the workplace, even many years later.

What however is also clear is that many degrees are pretty worthless, not only in terms of ROI but also with regard to any obvious added value at all. Reading page after page of available places in UCAS clearing it seems inexplicable that anyone might view some of the courses on offer as a good use of three years of their lives and £27,000 plus expenses.

  • Bright youngsters, with good grades should be encouraged to go to a good University. Of course these are just the candidates the small number of very highly paid apprenticeship schemes are also after but I think they should resist that temptation.
  • Those with middling grades should think very carefully about the options: if they have a passion for a subject, or are really sold on University, or feel they haven’t reached their academic potential and need a second chance then fine. But it they are undecided or feel perhaps they want to do a vocational degree e.g. Business Studies then they should also actively consider some form of apprenticeship ideally which also allows a part time or equivalent degree option.
  • Youngsters leaving school with poor A level grades, many of whom have in recent years gone on to get a degree of questionable value, should try hard to get a foot on the career ladder with an apprenticeship or other training scheme. The only exception to the rule might be if there is a vocational degree course in a field they are very interested in they can get on to that is highly regarded and has a good record of employment at the end of it.


Bright youngsters with good grades should be encouraged to go to a good University. Of course these are just the candidates the management consultancy apprenticeship schemes are after, however university is the recommended route for these individuals as it keeps options open.
Those with reasonable, but not great, grades should think carefully: if you have a passion for a subject, are really sold on university, or feel you haven’t reached your academic potential then yes. You could also actively consider an apprenticeship which also allows a degree option.
When leaving school with poor A level grades going to lesser-known universities may be an option but is unlikely to be a good investment of time and money. Getting a foot on the career ladder with a professional apprenticeship, vocational training or other scheme is a preferred option.

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