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Is a degree just an expensive waste of time?

PUBLISHED: 11:58 18 September 2017

The country is crying out for skilled bricklayers, plumbers, electricians and the like - so why waste time (and money) on a so-so degree, says Sharon Griffiths.

The country is crying out for skilled bricklayers, plumbers, electricians and the like - so why waste time (and money) on a so-so degree, says Sharon Griffiths.


Opinion: More young people are realising that studying for a degree might not be the best option. About time, says Sharon Griffiths.

Electricians on £3,000 a week? Plumbers on £2,000 and brickies on over a thousand? Bring it on.

The figures, quoted by recruitment firm Manpower are obviously pie in the sky for most skilled workers – especially in this region (“Some hope!” and other choice words snorted the man mending our shower) - and probably refer only to a very small number in London. But still…

It opens up possibilities and demonstrates there are other ways of training and making money than taking out a massive loan to go to a not very good university to study for a not very good degree and earn a not very good salary at the end of it. Just because all your mates are and you can’t think of anything better.

Many people realise, too late, that it’s not for them. Drop-out rates are growing and dropped-out students still have the debt, as well as another sense of failure. Not a great start to a working life.

Going to university at 18 has become a default setting, which is madness. Not everyone is suited to an academic life. Not everyone benefits that much from it, certainly not financially.

You start paying off a student loan when you earn more than £21,000 a year. The debt is written off after 30 years and more than three-quarters of students will never earn enough to pay it all back. So much for the huge sums graduates are meant to earn. Some do. Many don’t.

Which doesn’t sound much of a bargain. Interestingly, it’s the middle classes now who are increasingly encouraging their children to take up apprenticeships rather than degrees. Some of the great public schools are offering practical alternatives to A Levels. Forget the old snobberies, they can see where the money is. They also want their children to be happy and successful in the way that suits them best and for many that’s a trade rather than a degree.

Interest on some student loans going up to over 6.1pc - absolutely wicked when the bank rate is still at a record low of 0.25pc and students were always told that interest rates would never be punitive. If you have a burning desire to study then it’s worth every penny and you must. But otherwise…

Meanwhile a report from the Federation of Master Builders say that they are crying out for skilled tradesmen. During the recession recruitment and training ground to a halt and now they’re desperate to make up the shortfall.

‘University for all’ has proved a false god. Absolutely right for some, it’s absolutely wrong for others. Maybe we should just stop the production line and have a think about this. If skilled workers can earn better money than many graduates that certainly concentrates the mind.

But in any case, we need skilled people.

When water’s pouring through your ceiling do you need someone who can tell you what it is in ten different languages with the derivation of each? Or do you just want someone who can stop the leak?


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