please empty your brain below

I predict the university bubble is going to burst quite soon, when would-be students realise what a poor deal it all is. No job, just a massive debt. I just feel sorry for the ones who are being suckered into it now.

Like you, I got a grant to go to university, and in those days only the top, what, 5% in the country went. So a degree meant something then, even if we were only using it as a good excuse to leave home, and then not to make any real decisions as to what we wanted to do for another three years. Nowadays degrees seem to be two-a-penny and have lost their value.

A wonderful piece, engaging, entertaining and accurate. Thanks DG.

"We took on courses because they interested us, not because of their future market worth."

I was thinking about this very thing the other day, after I'd been talking to a bright 11 year old who asked me what a well-paying career would be, as she intended to work towards it. I'm sure that the idea that careers paid so differently in terms of salary never entered my head when I was 11, and I certainly had no idea what my parents earned then (mind you, although she knew the figures she said, "My dad earns £150,000, plus benefits, is that a lot?")

I am convinced that those of us in our 40s and 50s now had very little idea of how much jobs paid then - because there was so much less concentration on money and materialism and how much things cost. One did things more because they were worth doing, or interesting, as you say, rather than as a means to a lucrative end.

And don't start me on 'universities' who now accept students with IQs of 80, just for the money they get. It is immoral, both form the point of view of devaluing degrees, and from that of the effect on the individual when they can't cope with the level. 25 years ago, pupils with IQs of 80 were often sent to special schools. I'm not saying that this is right, just that it shows how things change: from vocational courses (with futures) in a special school to a degree course (with no future) in just two and a half decades.

I graduated in 1985, and your post has much the same meaning to me, but, as already commented ,at that time only 5% went to University so it was an elitist thing and many more people now at have the chance to go. So even if numbers start to fall back that is still many times the number who had our experience in the eighties.

Well I remember when we in the UK were snooty about the degrees that could be bought in the US. Seems to me all we have now is the same paper generating self-serving organisations over here. The difference is that our Government actively encourages the poor to enter these institutions - first to keep them off the unemployed register (& therefore reduce benefit costs) & second to keep those same poor students in a state of permanent indebtedness so that they can skim % interest off them just like the dodgy loan shark down your street.

I was extremely lucky - my first year of Uni was the last year of full grants, loans came in after that, but I got a bit of a grant for the three years, and the loan debt I came out with was not too horrific. If I was in Sixth form now (or whatever we're supposed to call it), I would have to be thinking very, very carefully indeed about whether I could afford it or not. As has been noted already, with so many people now going to Uni, the whole value of a degree is being downgraded, and I am noting people who feel that they "must" do a Masters and possibly even then a PHD to stand any chance of getting "a good job". I shudder to think how much debt that involves!

And to Blue Witch above, I'd recommend your 11 year old friend considers Pharmacy. It's not what I do, but a friend does, and despite the five years(!) in Uni (I believe, might be wrong), he appears to be extremely well paid and only actually works part-time, thus massively improving the old "work-life balance". And it allows you to emigrate, should that be a consideration for the little darling!

It's not quite true to say that prospective students only pick courses for their future commercial value, although this is increasingly the case. I and most of my fellow Music graduates (and postgrads) took our subject because it was what we loved, and was what we were genuinely interested in and wanted to study academically. The same is true for friends who took arts, drama and history. Of course we are all struggling to find career jobs at the moment, but so are plenty of people with management or other non-academic business degrees. Job training is not the primary purpose of higher education, something our rulers would do well to remember.

Well I seem to be the exception here left the University of Utrecht in 1973. Went on a trip to the USA for 10 months, to clear my head. When back in the Netherlands, started work, the degree really helped. Since 2008 retired, I still see a lot of my friends from university.

I just missed out on a free university education, but still got it relatively cheaply.

A potential problem with higher education is that ever-increasing tuition fees are going to put many worthy people off going to university altogether (especially as there's certainly no guarantee of getting a graduate-level job at the end). A side-effect of this would be to make degrees more valuable again over the long term, but by looking at the larger picture, it could also leave the UK uncompetitive compared to the fast-growing markets in India and China (who are churning out tens or even hundreds of thousands of graduates every year).

I managed, like you, to scrape a further education (not not called uni as they all are today).
Whilst it was relatively free (means tested) it wasn't a straight forward deal. Less people passed than today - they (who didn't manage to pass) then changed direction towards what was available to them - those of us lucky to have passed - found the next step as tricky as it will be for the new outflow in the coming years. Back then the promise of a job ... of course didn't exist - most of us moved South ... in search of Jobs. Few of us are now left (some gone back,others left the uk for the us, nz, and oz).

Today's teenagers > students have plenty to check out and look forward to...yes the costs are scary - but to be brutal - if it worried them "that much" then they'd be better off out of it. Taking big risks is for some .. how they, including me , got here.

Everyone should remember that someone paid for their education, even though it may have been "free" to them at the time.

What has changed is that we are all now being taxed almost to extinction (thanks Gordon Brown and your stealth taxes) but the books still cannot be balanced so that there is less money to finance education. There are also many more people who have been led to believe that further education is their right and so the overall bill is much greater. The only way to finance all this education is to raise the money from those who are being educated, like it or not.

Whether or not it is all going to be worth it should be the real debate, as the first comment above says.

Gosh that brought it all back, being much of the same age as you! Yes, I went mostly to buy myself some time before having to make it in the big wide world, but passed, which was all I wanted. Plis my LEA was duty bound to find me my first teaching position, so I really was lucky.

But I remember thinking at the time, that my friends who left school at 16 and started working, had all pretty much reached the same salary level as me coming in 5-6 years later anyway!!

Yes, me too - I graduated in 1985, full grant, no debt, chose my course because it was my favourite subject.

My son is about to go in the sixth form, and yes, he's certainly planning on going to University in two years' time - but is it going to be worth having all of that debt to pay off? It's a fun three years but it's a high price to pay for it.

And as there are far more graduates now than back in the eighties, where are all of these graduate-level jobs? Or is it the case that employers insist on candidates having a degree for jobs which previously required only A levels or GCSEs?

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