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26th March 2023

There’s more to a degree than its graduate prospects

How important are job prospects when choosing a degree? Whilst it would be impractical to ignore the facts altogether, there are always more factors to consider
There’s more to a degree than its graduate prospects
Photo: The University of Manchester

Should students paying £9,250 per year be told their graduate prospects?

Put simply, yes, they should. This lets young people make educated decisions about the results that they will get with the money they will be funding their degree with. Having said that, students should note that future job prospects are not the be-all and end of why they should pick a degree.

One of the main supporters of supplying information about degree courses would be the Government. They are, after all, the ones who are taking the risk of supplying us with our student loans. Of course, these loans are supposed to be paid back, and as of next year, it will be even harder not to do this, with the paying back period being stretched from 30 years to 40 years. The idea is that we will be able to pay back the loans by getting a job that pays us enough, so it would be in their interests to tell us what we should expect jobs-wise.

This is best shown by Gavin Williamson, the then- Education Secretary’s announcement in 2021 that the Government would be cutting funding for 13 arts-related courses by 50%. The idea behind this was to “redirect” Government funding to degrees that supply “key industries”. Why, though, are the arts not seen as “key”? What would society be without the arts? What happened to giving us the choice of what degree we want to pursue?

The risk to pushing this information onto students would be that they may be pushed into the often more lucrative path of stem degrees and careers. Whilst this might not be a bad thing for some, it could be very difficult for a student who knows that they would rather take on other degree courses.

For example, I have had friends who are encouraged by their families to go into degrees that will provide ‘respectable’ careers, such as doctor, lawyer, or accountant, and I know that while some of these people are passionate about this, in some cases, the focus on job prospects is persuading them to only take on a ‘respectable degree.’

It is also vital to consider the risk that it would have an out-of-proportion effect on students from less well-off backgrounds. For children whose families are able to put them through university without any financial worry, a degree is costly, yes, but it is not the same risk as it is for students who are taking on a degree to change their and their family’s economic situation. For example, students who are first-generation immigrants.

Rather than having a choice as to what they want to study and then pursue, they would be even more limited by career prospects. So, it is important to consider social mobility when deciding to give students information about their job prospects. This means that we should find a middle way between showing students their job prospects and pressing the matter too much.

As a student studying ancient history and history at the University of Manchester, I am aware of my future job prospects. The website gave me information about job prospects six months after graduating and using this, I made the choice to stick with my course despite knowing that my job prospects were different to someone studying say, computer science.

I did this on the basis that the skills offered by my degree will also be desired by employers, which is shown by the fact that many of us as historians later go on to become lawyers, educators, politicians, and many more equally high-earning and respected careers.

One common factor within degrees which have less positive job prospects is that they cater more to teaching skills rather than teaching a particular profession. In my opinion, these skills are still very valuable, and if crafted correctly they can be used by students to gain valuable careers, even if this may not be represented by figures showing graduate prospects.

After doing some digging a bit deeper into the figures displayed on university websites, I found that they are often skewed, and as such should be read with caution. Many universities will count students who take on Master’s degrees or PhDs as being employed within six months, which suggests that just looking at the figures shown and not exercising your own judgment on whether a degree is worthwhile may not be as helpful after all.

What I mean to say is that it is of course, important to inform students about their job prospects. But we mustn’t dissuade students from low-income backgrounds from taking on degrees with lower job prospects. If we do, this could lead to an increasingly-elitist arts industry – a dangerous thing for a society that we, as students, are about to inherit.

Athena Thomas

Athena Thomas

student of history and ancient history at UOM

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