Tuesday 18 August 2020 8:00 am

History tells us now is a good time to go to university

Alistair Jarvis is chief executive of Universities UK.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact in a very short amount of time on people’s lives — worry and uncertainty continues as cases rise and fall at differing levels across the globe.

And while the UK grapples with the consequences of an economic recession, people who received their A-level results last week are facing not only confusion over their grades, but longer-term challenging decisions about their future in what is — at least for the short-term — a very tough job market. 

Some may be questioning the value of starting a university course this year, yet history tells us that now is a good time to go.

Analysis of the recoveries from previous recessions shows that between 1986 and 2006, 85 per cent of new jobs created were at a “professional” level — usually requiring a graduate level qualification — while between 2008 and 2018, 90 per cent of new jobs were in that same category. Meanwhile, there was a reduction in jobs which did not fall within the “professional” category, to the tune of nearly half a million.

Read more: University is still the safest bet to a good life

There is no doubt that during a pandemic, and in the recovery period that will follow, we need to continue to develop highly-skilled professionals, and not just in the areas of medicine and health, but across economics, law, engineering, environmental sciences, to name just a few. The efforts we have seen over recent months from universities, researchers and health professionals in tackling the virus and preparing us for a post-Covid future show just how important graduate level professionals are to our recovery and in making sure that the UK is a global player in the fight against the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, analysis carried out by NESTA into the future of UK occupations and skills up to 2030 shows that there is an expected rise in demand for jobs categorized as “professional” (including teachers, doctors, and IT architects). Alongside this comes a demand for a set of essential skills, such as critical thinking, complex problem solving, creativity and systems analysis — all of which university degrees are aimed at fostering and improving. 

Read more: Our university sector was broken long before Covid-19

This is food for thought for mature university applicants who are considering re-skilling or up-skilling by taking a university degree, to make sure that they can compete in the future global workforce.   

At the same time, we often hear talk of how our education system needs to prepare people for jobs which don’t even exist yet, and are we set up to do that? Research from the Bank of England on “Will a robot take over my job?” shows that those with higher level skills are still less likely to be taken over by forms of future automation.

Societal factors at play also reveal that there will be a need to fill the roles of those retiring from jobs in a society with an ever-increasing ageing population. Even if there were a short-term decrease in graduate vacancies, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills “Working Futures” report shows that with such an ageing population, we will still see a significant demand for graduate level occupations in the medium to long-term. 

Read more: A-levels: pupils in England to receive predicted grades after major U-turn

A very significant body of analysis and research highlights that even in a recession, choosing to study a university degree will place graduates at a significant advantage in securing a good job — and we know that graduates on average will earn around £9,000 more a year than people without a degree. 

Couple the above research with the fact that many gap years are currently on hold with travel a seemingly difficult option for some time to come. Deferring for a year until a vaccine for the virus is hopefully found may not pay off, as people will be competing with more experienced, recently furloughed or unemployed applicants, for the jobs which won’t require higher level qualifications. 

University graduates will continue to play a central role in the global response to tackling and recovering from the most significant global crisis of our time. If you’ve thought about how we will rethink the way we live and work in the future, then university is the place to gain the skills, knowledge and connections to be part of that movement.

These are the skills that employers will want as we move through the pandemic and beyond, and university — with all its diversity — is the place to develop them. Going to university this autumn remains a very good choice.

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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