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So, what’s a university degree really worth?

PUBLISHED: 10:33 23 July 2017 | UPDATED: 10:33 23 July 2017

NUA graduations ceremony at St Andrews Hall. Vice-Chancellor John Last applauds the graduates. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

NUA graduations ceremony at St Andrews Hall. Vice-Chancellor John Last applauds the graduates. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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For what it’s worth - time spent studying for a degree can be priceless

Summer can be a bittersweet season for parents.

They share their children’s anxious wait for exam results; they share the joy when their daughter or son’s hard work is rewarded with a university place.

Then comes the wait for the start of term. The start of undergraduate life signals, for many, the moment a child moves out of the family home into student digs or halls of residence.

“Don’t worry, they’ll be back when they need some washing done … or when they fancy a Sunday lunch,” or so goes the traditional patter of parental reassurance that all will be well.

But parental pride at what their children have achieved so far – and hopes for what they will achieve in future – are likely to be matched with worries about money.

Since the general election campaign, the debate about student debt and tuition fees has rarely been out of the headlines.

Yes, universities must show they provide good value for the money that students - and often their parents – invest in three or more years of study.

But what tends to get overlooked in the student finance debate is what a university education is worth.

What’s the value of higher education?

Earlier this month official statistics showed that 94.7pc of students who graduated from Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) in 2016 were employed or continuing their studies six months on.

That’s ahead of the national average and ahead of the official benchmark for our institution.

Ah, but they’ll have low paid temporary work in coffee bars, pubs and clubs, sceptical readers will be thinking right now.

Almost two out of three NUA graduates (65pc) were in professional or managerial jobs.

And for one of our courses – Film and Moving Image Production – the number of NUA graduates in professional/management roles was 82pc.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, there has been a 35pc pay gap between graduates and school-leavers for the last 20 years.

Of course, not every student becomes a high-earning graduate; but leaving education early to embark on a career is no guarantee of high pay either.

So, let’s ask NUA graduates if they feel their course was good value for money.

That’s precisely what happens every year in the National Student Survey – a poll of more than three million students across 357 higher education institutions.

Look through the survey’s findings in recent years and you’ll find NUA rated consistently as the best specialist arts, design and media university in the country.

Why is this the case?

There are clues in the results earlier this month of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), the Government’s new way of gauging the teaching outcomes of universities.

NUA was one of only 59 universities to be given a gold ranking.

According to the official TEF verdict, this was because of the “very high proportions of students continue with their studies and progress to employment or further study, and to highly skilled employment.” And, there are “outstanding levels” of student satisfaction with teaching, assessment and support from staff.

But numbers only tell part of the story.

You will spend three years of your life with peers who share your passion for the subject.

You are likely to make life-long friends and contacts. Priceless.

You will learn the art and science of your subject and will explore, experiment and innovate.

These are valuable attributes in the workplace.

Creativity and innovative-thinking are the least likely skills to be automated in a world of increasingly smart machines.

But these attributes are also a route to personal fulfilment and well-being.

That’s not a fashionable argument in a world where everything needs to be accounted for.

But most parents want their children to lead happy and fulfilled lives as much as earning a good living in a good job.

So, what’s a degree really worth?

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