Story Coruteous of the Telegraph
University is not solely about the subject you study, but with tuition fees set to rise to as much as £9,000 per annum from September 2012, young people — and their families — will have to consider carefully the repayment prospects and jobs they are likely to obtain on qualifying.
The key these days is versatility. “When you first go to university, start thinking about what you’re going to do once you have graduated,” says Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), a not-for-profit organisation representing more than 800 firms. The days of, ‘If I get a good degree, that’s sufficient,’ are gone. At university, there’s plenty of scope for voluntary work, internships or work placements to help you discover what employers offer and what they’re looking for. Find out about work opportunities and about yourself, reflect on this and articulate those skills [to prospective employers].”
According to AGR’s 2011 Summer review, law firms expect to offer the highest median starting salary to graduates at £37,000. Investment banks or fund managers come second at £36,500. At least as relevant, especially in a recession, are the figures for increases in recruitment, which indicate growth in a number of sectors. Consulting and business services are expected to rise by an impressive 149 per cent, and retail and insurance by a healthy 76 per cent and 53per cent respectively, while the public sector, banking and construction all take a dive with negative growth.
Of the 21,507 jobs to be offered to graduates by the 202 firms that responded to the AGR survey, more than 40 per cent will go to would-be accountants and consultants, those providing business and professional services, and those pursuing careers in retail. But Gilleard points out that raw statistics are only one of many factors school-leavers and their families should take into consideration. “They need to be aware of where the growth areas lie. For instance, in waste management and environmental jobs, renewable energies and agriculture, or specialisms such as Mandarin and linguistics, cultural sensitivity and emotional intelligence will be major recruitment factors in the 21st century.
“School-leavers should also explore what is available at small and medium-sized businesses and in areas they might never have thought of, such as procurement. Most people are unfamiliar with this sector, but the person doing the buying plays a major and often global role in affecting a company’s bottom line.”
Many degrees are oversubscribed, and many jobs are short of applicants. The AGR’s Graduate Recruitment Summer Survey 2011 shows that while investment banking received more than 230 applications per post, engineering and industrial sectors received only 46 per vacancy. Combine this with an increase of 46.5pc in graduate-level engineering posts this year and a starting salary of around £24,000-£26,000, and this diverse sector would seem to offer opportunity and potential for growth.
Prof Matthew Harrison, director of education at the Royal Academy of Engineering, makes the case: “Engineering is a global business dealing with all of today’s big issues: energy, climate, water, transport, health and international security. As a result, it rewards those individuals who make a global contribution — engineering graduates feature strongly in the annual tables on graduate salaries.
“By harnessing science and technology in order to create systems that not only work, but work really well, engineers also gain huge personal satisfaction.”
The recent Sutton Trust charity report made headlines with the shock statistic that only five top schools send more pupils to Oxford and Cambridge than 2,000 other comprehensives or sixth-form colleges combined. One of the reasons the trend is so extreme relates not to ability, but simply to state-school pupils’ choice of A-levels.
Reviewing last year’s A-level results, Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group of universities, says, “It’s encouraging to see an increase in the number of students taking and achieving good passes in A-level sciences and maths. The skills learned by taking these subjects are essential for many courses at leading universities — particularly in engineering, economics and medicine — and can significantly improve a student’s life chances [prospects].”
Dr Piatt says that subject choices are crucial. “It is still true that too few students from state schools are opting for science (and particularly single science), technology, engineering and maths subjects at GCSE, and advanced and university levels. All students, especially those from low-income backgrounds, must have access to appropriate information and guidance about the choices that will maximise their potential from an early age.”
Websites such as those of the AGR, The Daily Telegraph, Ucas and the Higher Education Statistics Agency, as well as university league tables and the Complete University Guide can help. But it’s also crucial to study prospectuses as all English degrees, for instance, are not the same and none are quite like the A-level courses designed to prepare pupils for them.
Gilleard adds, “Be flexible, adaptable and mobile — whatever you choose may not be the job you’ll do for the next 50 years. It is OK to follow your passions.”
In an increasingly specialised world, young people need to be alert to new and niche subjects. If journalism and art are cool, how much cooler is it to go into farming, to become a detective or to create something everyone wants to buy?