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Culture Photograph: Matthew Borkoski .

Published on August 14th, 2014 | by Sadia Aden
Image © Photograph: Matthew Borkoski


Does university work?

At the end of the 2013 academic year, there was 12 million graduates in the UK. In London alone, 6 out of every 10 people living in the capital were graduates.

One of these 12 million graduates was Ashford Clovis, who has been looking for a stable job since finishing UEL with a Biology degree in 2013. Since then she has been relying on temporary retail jobs which require little skill; a far cry from the scientific environment of labs, test tubes and other equipment from his 3 year course.

He cites the competition faced by new graduates as a possible factor. As students from all different institutions in the UK complete their studies, and enter to compete at the same time for the most lucrative jobs. It often those from higher establishments who may benefit more coming from a university with a higher status, “leaving others to lose out”, he points out.

Yet he stresses the necessity of working or gaining job skills, relating to the course/industry, which he believes some universities fail to provide.  Suffering from this himself, he explains that although his course provided much theory based work, there was hardly any practical job skills given in his field during his time at university.

This meant that once beginning to apply for jobs, he faced difficulty as employers naturally expected more practical over theory which leaves Ashford in a predicament. He tells me that after preparing many different CVs for each different job application, only to receive rejections is simply “a disheartening process”.

For many who will receive their A level results today, this moment will be the decider on whether and where they would attend university. Some argue though that most schools place too much value on the path to university. Crucially disregarding other paths to success such as apprenticeships, learning a trade or even becoming an entrepreneur through creating a business.

On average, graduates aged 21 earned a lower gross annual wage than 21 year olds who left education with an apprenticeship according to the Office of National Statistics. Ashford’s experience highlights the pitfalls of attending university which some argue is not a guarantee of job success or wealth.

However for others such as Anaisa Omar, who graduated from SOAS, it is quite a different experience. A degree in History alongside a minor in Development studies, she was quite successful in gaining a job only a week after graduating. She credits her university for its use of the board of trustees which has given her links and contacts. Howeverthis job was a temporary position and she soon after faced the stress of looking for the next suitable work position.

She expresses that this is burden many students face, as the heavy competition for a small number of roles means that many take on jobs as a temp or intern in various places. “The secret is you learn many skills on the job” she says. Anaisa mentions that many students should pay attention to gaining soft skills employers might seek that aren’t as broadcasted to young people. Such as how to conduct yourself in professional environment, being flexible, a team player and working under pressure.

Also both graduates; Ashford and Anaisa place attention that as “technology is the way forward”, the long term emphasis should be made for students to consider its opportunities seriously. As social media websites like Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook become a source of attaining but also creating jobs.

Nevertheless, whether students wish to attend university or not, it remains that job skills should always be on the minds of students. Students wishing to attend university should read up on their chosen universities and their module programmes carefully. A university with a good employability record; as well the introduction of work skills in their course structure, could go a long way over just the knowledge of the course itself.

Also it is relevant for 6th form colleges and schools to propose more help for those wanting to explore other avenues into work other than university, as they face the scarier prospect of entering work life at an earlier age. Thus they would need more assistance to make the right choice.

Anaisa currently works at Adeso. She aspires to become a journalist to discuss the issues in Somalia and development issues elsewhere. Her advice to all students is that you are as only as good as your last project/job so keep adapting! It’s all about being proactive, don’t be afraid to take unpaid internships or volunteer work in order to gain skills and references.

Using the most of his skills as a vlogger on YouTube under the name Ashpod84, Ashford has plans to make use of his degree entering the education sector as a teacher. His advice to students is to start gaining work skills early on by looking for jobs and placements around your field. Also maintaining good relationships with lecturers or networking at events are ways that could help students gain a mentor who they could follow in their footsteps.

The useful advice given by students is something that, as a student myself, I would make a serious note of to remember. Understanding what life after university will be like and how I can make my transition into it easier. But most of all to consider university as a long-term process to develop myself, rather than just a delay into the world of full-time work.

Please note that all blog posts do not represent the views of Catch21 but only of the individual writers. We also aim to be factually accurate and balanced across all content taken as a whole.

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About the Author

A second year International Politics student studying at Brunel University in London with an ambition to travel and a vice for sweets, alongside an interest for global affairs - past and present.

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