Going to university: invaluable rite of passage, or not worth it?

August 20, 2012, 3:02 PM GMT+0

On August 16, thousands of anxious students across Britain received the results of their A-level examinations, which would determine whether they had secured entry into the universities of their choice.

On the day of reckoning, David Willetts, the universities minister, said there was "a long-term trend for more and more people to aspire to go to university", and predicted that an increasing number of employers would require prospective employees to have a university degree.

Others have argued that having a university degree is not a guarantee of success, however, and that those who choose to study vocational subjects might be better off in some cases.

We invited you to explore this question – that is, of whether or not going to university is a valuable thing for a person to do, all things considered – by arguing your corner in PoliticsLab.

It seems that most of those taking part in the discussion felt that going to university is a valuable thing for a person to do, for the following reasons:

  • That a university education helps “expand horizons”, and that in addition to gaining academic knowledge, the university experience helps young people transition into adulthood.
  • Participants also said being a university graduate gives job-seekers an advantage over those who do not have a university degree, and that it is a requirement for many jobs.
  • Some of you pointed out that going to university was increasingly expensive, however, and that students must balance the desire for development with the costs, and also think carefully about what future careers they want when choosing their courses.

There were those who took the opposite view in Labs, though, who perceived that going to university had no value because:

  • Having a university degree (it was felt) is no guarantee that a graduate will be able to secure a job, and that in many cases employers value real work experience over a degree.
  • Others argued that not everyone is academically inclined, and therefore it’s not right for young people to be pushed into a university degree for which they may not be suited, and that the number of people getting academic degrees dilutes their real value.
  • Many of you made the point that going to university is very expensive, and leaves graduates saddled with debt, without any guarantee of getting a job.

(Click on the headings below to read panellists’ quotes from either side of the debate)

VIEWPOINT: 'Going to university IS a valuable thing for a person to do'

All education is never wasted, and university can be a route to new understanding and a time to mature. University is not for everyone, and many are better off with apprenticeships or have another route to their future. However, any way of opening up more of the world to people by study, whatever the subject, can never be a bad thing” Lesley B, Hounslow

University is a massively character building experience. The life experience gained is as valuable, if not more so, than the educationAnon

It gives them qualifications, opportunities for more jobs available. Gives them more knowledge as well, and also broadens their options for the future” Sophie Y, London

Going to university increases your social skills, gives you chance to try various part time jobs, helps you get used to single life, and getting a degree shows you are capable of independent study and self-motivation – key skills that employers seekAnon

Your earnings are likely to be higher than with no degree, and because it will enable you to have a more 'cerebral' occupation, so one that probably can be sustained throughout working life” Julie, London

“Going to university is definitely valuable, but it's not always the study element of university that can make the biggest difference to your life. It's an experience that changes your perceptions of things, widens your outlook and builds confidence. I feel that going to university could be made more valuable from a learning perspective if young people were given better careers advice before applying so the picked courses that really set them up for the kind of future life they wanted. Sadly, when you finish university with a massive amount of debt and a degree that feels a bit irrelevant it certainly doesn't feel like a valuable experience” HZ, Leeds

“Learning is always valuable and universities offer a special experience. It offers a unique life experience that you cannot get elsewhere, that is good for personal development. It is, or could be good for establishing a career, but that said, is now becoming prohibitively expensive and I would advise people to consider if the desired life enhancement could be achieved in some other wayLynn G, Nottingham

“Education is not only for career. I did not complete my degree till I was over 70, and have not bothered to formally graduate. It was a part of an informal lifetime study in musicology unrelated to my career in NHS finance. It is assumed that the only progression is that people study, gain a qualification, maybe do some post graduate work and have a training based career. I did it in the opposite direction. Why shouldn't your butcher, baker or candlestick maker have a degree in Astronomy or Zoology?John, Rothesay

VIEWPOINT: 'Going to university is NOT a valuable thing for a person to do'

Too many university courses aren't worth the time taken to attend, especially with increasing fees. Also, a degree doesn't seem to prepare students for entering the workforce. Education for profession versus pure learning needs to be distinguished” MS, London

Too many people go to university without any aim. … Many waste their time and run up huge debtsKath, Merseyside

Kids are being put into massive debt even before they get a job. I know a lot of people who have got their degrees and are just working in a shop. So if this is the best they can hope for it seems such a waste of resources, taxpayers’ money, time and effort, to spend all those years studying, just to be in the same position they could have been in three years back” Dino

University is not for everyone, yet it seems that everyone is being encouraged to attendAnon

I would suggest that a large number of students have an unusable degree; it would be better to engage them in technical skills, than have useless initials after their nameJohn, Scotland

Going to university used to be a useful tool to differentiate people for the job market, but with so many people now going to university and many of them doing soft subjects it is no longer that useful as a guide to capabilityMr P, Gwent

In some circumstances it is valuable, but it shouldn't be the default to slow people's entry into the workforce. For some career choices an alternative form of learning is much more appropriate. Plus, if everyone has a degree – be that good, bad or indifferent – then it is devalued and the wages necessary to cover the repayment of loans will not be forthcoming. Degrees should be special, not the normAnon

One of the issues is that too many people are being pushed to university with the result that they expect a graduate role when they leave. I feel the number of places now dilutes the value of a degree. I feel that there should be much more emphasis on vocational training, such as engineering apprenticeships, then when the students have learnt the role, they can progress to HNC/HND – that way it gives the UK a much more useful workforceAnon

Do you think going to university is a valuable thing for a person to do?

And if you could study any university subject, just for fun, what would it be?