Tweet It looks as though a significant number of young people who want to go to university, and who have obtained good enough A level results to do so, are going to be disappointed this year when they find that there are not enough places available for them. And it won't simply be a case of those who obtain the lowest grades being excluded either - depending on the choice of university and subject, many of those rejected could actually possess better grades than many of those accepted.
It raises big questions about how many places should be provided at universities, and how they should be filled.
It seems to me that there are two fairly rational ways of determining how many places should be provided in total. The first is to look at the number of people who want to have a university education, and who meet the minimum requirements; the second is to look at the number of jobs requiring graduates, and only provide enough places to meet that demand. We are actually doing neither of those things; we are setting the number of places based primarily on the cost of providing them.
I make no secret of the fact that I favour the approach of providing the education for all those who want it and meet the minimum requirements. A better educated population has advantages well beyond the merely economic.
But I also think we need to get away from the idea that there are 'graduate jobs' and 'non-graduate jobs'. Of course there are some jobs where a particular degree qualification is an absolute requirement – medicine is the one which immediately springs to mind. But in many cases, employers restricting their openings to graduates are doing so unnecessarily. It's sometimes little more than a lazy way of sifting and grading people.
As a concrete example, I remember having a bit of a battle with HR professionals many years ago when I wanted to recruit non-graduates as computer programmers. We were having difficulty getting the numbers we needed, and I just didn't see that a degree was as relevant as having the basic aptitude and ability. I won the battle, and the people I went on to recruit turned out to be, on the whole, just as effective as the graduates.
Many graduates themselves are already having to recognise that if they want to restrict themselves to jobs labelled as being for graduates, then they are restricting their career chances. And many of those being rejected by universities this year will be every bit as able and competent as those accepted, but will be available for work three years earlier than their successful schoolmates. Employers who ignore that pool of talent will be doing themselves no favours in the long term. Judging people on their abilities and experience rather than on possession of a particular piece of paper may be harder to do; but those employers who are prepared to do it will find they have access to a wider range of talent.
Setting unrealistic expectations about the opportunities available to people just because they are graduates; excluding people from consideration just because they aren't; and deciding how many graduates to turn out for financial reasons rather than based either on demand for skills or demand for places are all misguided ways of looking at the benefits of higher education both to individuals and to society as a whole.
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