What the great degree rip-off means for graduates: low pay and high debt

Apr 19, 2016 by

Aditya Chakrabortty

I warned that students were being misled and was rebuked but it was true. Ministers owe them and me an apology

A few years back, I got my knuckles rapped by a government minister. In public. It was 2010: David Cameron had just come to power, and he was about to thrust university students into a new regime of higher tuition fees and debt.

Against that backdrop, I’d written a column criticising the way in which both Labour and Conservative governments marketed degrees as being some kind of social-mobility jetpack, zooming their wearers to more money and high-powered jobs. It was no such guarantee, I said, citing among other things Whitehall’s own plunging estimates of how much more graduates earn over a lifetime. Graduates, I said, would “probably end up doing similar work to their school-leaver parents – only with a debilitatingly large debt around their necks”.

For David Willetts, then universities minister, this was sheer and unpalatable sauce. In a speech to the annual conference of Universities UK, representing the top management of higher education, he named me – then tried to shame me. I was “wrong”, he claimed. Previous governments had indeed claimed that a graduate could expect to pull in £400,000 more over their lifetime than someone who hadn’t been to university. And, yes, his officials had knocked that estimate down to £100,000. But the difference, you see, was nothing to do with the increase in graduates – but “an improved methodology”. So I was “not comparing like with like”. Two Brains, one slap!

Source: What the great degree rip-off means for graduates: low pay and high debt | Aditya Chakrabortty | Opinion | The Guardian

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