University: Is there another way?

10 months ago Nick Baxter

Siora Photography Hg Fy1m Zy Y0 Unsplash

​With freshers week in full swing or fast approaching, I’ve been thinking about university – is there another way?

September is a month synonymous with fresh starts and new beginnings for many of the UK’s young adults. Having received their A-level or Advanced Highers results, traditionally 18-year-olds up and down the country will be waving farewell to their families, memories of heady summer days replaced by nervous anticipation of the future and embarking on a new adventure at university.

However, it doesn’t have to be this way. Nor was it the way for 72% England’s 18-year-old population and 74% Scotland’s in 2018.

It also wasn’t the path for me…

Indeed, the path from university to future career itself is a rocky one. Although government statistics from last year revealed graduates earnt a median salary of £34,000 compared to non-graduates at £24,000, metrics do not account for speed or success of progression thereafter.

Plus, these statistics are problematic in that they are affected by factors such as the race, gender and cultural and socio-economic background of the student. For example, white graduates earnt a median salary of £35,550, compared to £25,500 for black graduates. Similarly, the graduate gender pay gap sees graduate men earning £1,500 more than for women per year.

And, with the average student debt after a three-year degree course in England sitting at an eye-watering £50,000, many are asking the question – as I was 20-something years ago – is there another way?

Learn while you earn

90% of apprentices in England remained in employment after completing their qualification, plus apprenticeships allow you to earn a wage while you study – it’s the best of both worlds. However, apprenticeships remain limited in today’s job market and therefore competition is high. 

Entrepreneur allure

Thanks to the transformative power of technology and innovative emerging markets, there has been a momentous rise in the gig economy and startups. A 2018 government briefing paper reported 5.4 million microbusinesses (those with 0-9 employees) in the UK, accounting for 96% all UK businesses; 4.2 million of which comprised 0 employees – that is, the self-made entrepreneur. Meanwhile, the TUC reported Britain’s gig economy accounted for 4.7 million workers in 2018 – that’s around one in 10 working age adults.

See the world

I didn’t go to University. In fact, I never applied. I decided it wasn’t a route I wanted to explore 12 months before the end of my A-levels; rather, I wanted to travel the world and I was determined to find my calling another way. As such, I experienced amazing adventures and had my eyes opened to different cultures, meeting interesting people with great stories to tell.

This experience meant I entered the working world with enthusiasm, insight and an appreciation for the importance of relationship building and cultural differences – something that has stood me in good stead and helped me to get where I am today. That’s not to say it was easy, I didn’t get a bit of luck along the way and I wouldn’t have achieved similar highs if I had gone to university.

I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was living abroad, and I had never even considered a career in recruitment. I was lucky and was in the right place at the right time; a good friend of mine joined a small, owner-managed recruitment business in London that was only 18 months old, and at the time I was desperately in need of a change from my role as a sales consultant at a legal publishers. He managed to secure me an interview and the rest was history as they say.

That was nearly 17 years ago and since then I have learnt hard work, determination and ambition are just as important as a degree and if you really want to achieve something, you can if you are also willing to invest the effort.

There are, of course, significant benefits to going to university and the accomplishment of achieving a degree cannot be underestimated. However, there are various paths to be explored and opportunities to be seized in order to begin your journey towards a successful career. You just need to pick the route that’s best for you.