Twenty-five years ago when I went to university, it was very much the done thing. I got a maintenance grant from the government, there were no fees, and I spent three years studying but more importantly getting some life experience of living and surviving alone, says Paul Merison, director of ACCA at the LSBF.
Today it seems very different. Huge fees, no grants for living costs, and if my children go to university they will come out with massive debts.
But one thing seems to be the same – employers still complain that graduates come out from their studies no more workplace ready than a school leaver.
With today’s school leavers more savvy than my generation, many are questioning the benefit of the traditional university route. The debts are hardly an attraction, but hearing that so many graduates cannot get into their chosen career is probably the bigger turn-off.
The media has been full of stories of people who chose to avoid university and go into some form of employee training scheme, getting a paid job, immediate work experience, office skills training and often a professional qualification – and all by the same age that they would have graduated, thus putting them well ahead of their friends who chose to go to university.
And for those who still want the degree, some programmes have been designed to build a university degree into the package, often using the professional qualification to get study exemptions and speed up graduation into as little as six months.
The LSBF school leaver scheme does exactly this and is much more practical and work-focussed than a traditional degree approach, and at a fraction of the cost. No doubt others will follow this model, and we are sure to see a shift in focus with 18 year-olds looking for career and workplace skills first and additional academic study second (if at all).
When I was 18, any talk of not going to university would have drawn a glare from my mother – and rightly so. My degree has stood me in good stead, and I had a fabulous three years at university. But as soon as I had work experience and my accountancy qualification, nobody asked about my degree any more. And as an employer, I am far more interested in someone’s practical skills and how they fit in with office colleagues than any academic certificates they have obtained.
I don’t know when it all changed. But it did.
Paul Merison is director of ACCA at the London School of Business & Finance (LSBF).