University education is generally seen as a stepping stone to successful employment and career advancement. In his article “Why I’m thinking about employability during my first year of university”, Jonathan Frost perceives his university education as key to securing a job in the tight graduate labour market. He actively takes part in school activities to pick up soft skills such as teamwork, which he believes will put him in good stead in finding a job.
This perspective on the value of a university education is driven primarily by the significant wage premium a degree confers on the graduate worker. While there are reports which cite the narrowing gap in wage premiums between a university graduate worker vis-a-vis one without a university degree, median lifetime earnings are still higher for those with higher educational qualifications. Unsurprisingly, besides the level of educational qualification, the occupation of the individual matters too. According to a recent study by the Georgetown Centre on Education and the Workforce, almost 40% of people with a Bachelor’s degree – earn more than the median of those with a Masters degree, principally because of occupational differences. On average however, a Bachelor’s degree-holder can still expect to earn 84% more over a lifetime than one with a high school diploma today.
Beyond private economic benefits, a university education is also viewed by some to fulfill loftier objectives, such as promoting the pursuit of knowledge and holistic development of the individual
In addition, the value of a university education is not reaped by the individual alone. Among other things, access to and attainment of university education creates a pool of resilient workforce for the future economy, promotes social mobility, and yields positive externalities such as social stability and well-being. While substantial private returns may incentivise individuals to pursue a university education on his/her accord, the public benefits, both economic and non-economic ones, also strengthen the case for some public funding of university education to fulfill broader societal objectives.
Food For Thought