Too much emphasis on degrees says CIPD skills report

The Government needs to end its "conveyor belt" approach to university and do more to create and promote high-quality vocational pathways into work.

These are the conclusions of a new report by the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development.

Alternative pathways into the labour market calls into question the continued focus on what it calls the "graduate premium", with CIPD research showing that more than half of graduates work in non-graduate jobs after they leave university. It comes at a time when the average student is now leaving university with £44,000 of debt.

The CIPD report says that Government emphasis on getting more and more young people through university is "no longer justified" given the employment outcomes for many graduates and the costs involved.

The study has focused on 29 occupations, which together account for nearly 30% of employment in the UK and where over 30% of the work is currently performed by graduates. It shows that, for many of these jobs, while the numbers of graduates has increased sharply since 1979, in many instances the level of skill required to do the job has not appreciably changed.

For instance, 35% of new bank and post office clerks are now graduates, compared to 3.5% in 1979; and 41% of new recruits in property, housing and estate management are graduates, compared with 3.6% in 1979.

Peter Cheese, CIPD chief executive, said: "This report shows clearly how the huge increase in the supply of graduates over the last 35 years has resulted in more and more occupations and professions being colonised by people with degrees, regardless of whether they actually need them to do the job."

For many graduates, the cost of a university education outweighs its personal economic benefits, he said.

"It goes without saying that the UK needs a world class higher education system, but this report really does provide a reality check on the assumption that continually increasing the numbers of people going to university truly adds the right value for learners of all ages, employers and the economy."

"Graduates are increasingly finding themselves in roles which don't meet their career expectations … [and] non-graduates … find themselves being overlooked for jobs just because they have not got a degree, even if a degree is not needed to do the job."

The situation is also bad for employers, said Cheese, because it leads to lower levels of employee engagement and undermines attempts to boost productivity.

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