It’s no surprise to learn that, according to research from the Office for National Statistics, many graduates do not have jobs that make full use of their degrees. What might that mean for the debate around expanding student numbers? David Kernohan from Wonkhe tries to unpick the issues.
Are graduates overeducated and underpaid?
Twenty-nine point two percent of graduates are over-educated for their job role five years or more after graduation. Though we can assign some of these to personal choice – either a focus on non-work goals (for example starting a family), or a commitment to low-paid employment (for example for artists and nurses), – we have to contend with the fact that a sizeable proportion of graduates are not in graduate employment more than five years on, however loosely defined that is.
Graduates in non-graduate roles do enjoy a slight premium over their non-graduate colleagues, and are likely to see speedier progression as they remain in their roles. But this is far from the “graduate premium” so often used as a policy justification for student borrowing.
There will be some who, on reading this report, will leap to blaming the graduates themselves, or the institutions that taught them. A purely instrumentalist view of higher education would suggest that they should never have attended university in the first place. But it is equally valid to argue that our employment market is not adequately rewarding people for the skills they bring to the jobs they do – and that the notion of a “graduate job” does not cover the jobs that we all benefit from having graduates do.
This press release from DfE paints a more positive picture, as you’d expect, but this too isn’t without its concerns.
Graduates continue to benefit with higher earnings
The figures show that a degree continues to be a worthwhile investment, however it also revealed that gaps in earnings still exist between different groups of the working age population – with male graduates earning £9,500 more than female graduates, and white graduates also earning £9,500 more than black graduates.
Jason Kottke found some great articles on how Philip Glass supported his early career, including this one from The Guardian.
When less means more
Throughout this period, Glass supported himself as a New York cabbie and as a plumber, occupations that often led to unusual encounters. “I had gone to install a dishwasher in a loft in SoHo,” he says. “While working, I suddenly heard a noise and looked up to find Robert Hughes, the art critic of Time magazine, staring at me in disbelief. ‘But you’re Philip Glass! What are you doing here?’ It was obvious that I was installing his dishwasher and I told him I would soon be finished. ‘But you are an artist,’ he protested. I explained that I was an artist but that I was sometimes a plumber as well and that he should go away and let me finish.”
That reminded me of this post, about how it pays to be pragmatic sometimes.
The Harvard Business Review has a rundown of the top five career regrets according to some survey or other. I think it’s safe to say we can identify with most if not all of them.
“Disappointment doesn’t discriminate; no matter what industry the individual operated in, what role they had been given, or whether they were soaring successes or mired in failure, five dominant themes shone through.”
Coping with Career Regret
The should haves are hard to turn off. “I should have gotten that promotion.” “I should have never chosen Public Relations.” “I should have left my job long ago.” These should haves eat at you, particularly if you are comparing your career to the careers of others.
The right approach is to replace the “should haves” with “what ifs.”
Public opinion could yet be our undoing
As HE qualifications are increasingly seen as a private investment in a future career, we may lose altogether the idea of higher level learning as something that is also of wider benefit to society. Research and development will, by and large, continue to be able to demonstrate their worth, but the benefits arising from a more highly educated and critical thinking society could easily be lost both in public discourse and in policy making.
“Do what you love” is not great advice
Not all passions match up with the realities of the job market. If you’re passionate about poetry or painting, you’re going to find very limited job opportunities for those things. Other people’s passions are their friends or their family, or home-making, or dogs, and again, there’s not much of a job market built around those things. But those are lovely passions to have. And in those cases, it makes sense to find work that you can do reasonably happily, while pursuing your passions when you’re not at work. And that’s completely okay.