≈70 Applicants per Job: Is College in UK Worth It?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 9/14/2010 12:07:00 AM
It's galling to yours truly as a university instructor in this day and age that my job may increasingly involve telling prospective students that a university degree is not all that it's cracked up to be. While it may be the honest thing to say, it certainly doesn't help generate demand for my services. However, since this blog is supposed to be the International Political Economy Zone, not the Parochial Factually Challenged Zone, let me bring up yet another chink in the armour of those who believe a college degree opens endless doors of opportunity. One strand concerns ever-diminishing returns to a college education in many places--paying more for a 3- or 4-year degree to get less in terms of salary. Another strand--also very relevant--concerns too many college-educated applicants chasing too few jobs requiring a university degree.

Earlier on, I discussed Manpower's fascinating worldwide employer survey that suggests many in-demand jobs nowadays do not require a college degree but technical or vocational training. As it so happens, another survey by the British Association of Graduate Recruiters composed of major firms doing business here points out that competition is exceedingly fierce for newly-minted graduates. The AGR Graduate Recruitment Summer Survey 2010 notes that each vacancy will now be contested by nearly 70 persons. It's certainly not the most appealing jobs picture.

For those of us in Britain at least, read the press blurb and weep. There is, actually, a massive glut of college graduates already out there:
The number of graduate vacancies has fallen by nearly 7% this year [2010] according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), which published the summer edition of its bi-annual survey today (Tuesday 6 July), on the final day of its annual conference. Today’s reported decrease follows a drop of 8.9% in 2009. The median graduate starting salary has also failed to rise and remains at the 2008 figure of £25,000.

The drop in vacancies has caused a corresponding increase in the number of applications for each much sought-after graduate job — the average now stands at 69 for every vacancy, compared to 49 last year and 31 in 2008. This is due not only to a decrease in jobs but also to the number of graduate job seekers being swollen by 2007 and 2008 graduates who have yet to find work and an understandable move on the part of graduates to send off more applications during a downturn. Graduate recuiters have responded by retreating to the safety of the minimum 2.1 degree selection criterion in order to cope with the influx. The AGR survey shows 78% of employers now insist on this as opposed to 67% in 2008.

Carl Gilleard, Chief Executive of the AGR, said: “Two consecutive years of decreases in vacancy levels is a familiar pattern during an economic downturn and this latest fall mirrors the two-year drop in graduate vacancies prompted by the dot.com crash in 2001/02. Employers’ earlier predictions for this year’s recruitment season have turned out to be somewhat premature in their optimism and today’s findings suggest that the recovery is going to be slower than previously thought.

"Recruiters are under intense pressure this year dealing with a huge number of applications from graduates for a diminishing pool of jobs. Those of our members who took part in the survey reported a total of 686,660 applications since the beginning of the 2010 recruitment campaign. It is hardly surprising then that the number of employers asking for a 2.1 degree has shot up by 11 percentage points. However, while this approach does aid the sifting process it can rule out promising candidates with the right work skills unnecessarily. We are encouraging our members to look beyond the degree classification when narrowing down the field of candidates to manageable proportions.”
Again, the overall point is that a college degree is not an automatic ticket to success in finding and keeping remunerative employment. Diligent folks will do their homework in seeing the issue of which training to undertake as a question of supply and demand. How can I equip myself with skills that others will pay good money for? Some people unquestioningly buy the hoopla of college; others should be more circumspect. For instance, despite their lack of glamour, why not take an apprenticeship in a trade with known shortages and hence future demand for skilled workers?
Apprenticeships, which are likely to expand under the coalition government, might provide an alternative career path for some students, the survey noted. [ACR chief executive] Gilleard acknowledged there was snobbery about apprenticeships, but said the children of the middle classes should not assume they had to get a degree to succeed. "I think many middle class parents are actually questioning, is this [a degree] the right route that my son or daughter should follow.

"Too many young people go [to university] because it's expected of them, and they don't think it through from a personal perspective – what will it be like, apart from having a good time."
So yes, the UK government is apparently keen on promoting apprenticeships. Snobbery aside, it's time others considered doing so, too. I will try and bring you more on the situation in other countries, but the larger implications remain: Think for yourself. You are not a lemming.