The case for more isn’t so simple, Mr Willetts

January 9, 2014

No one denies the wider benefits of a university degree. However, in his advocacy of an expansionist higher education policy (“Why the cap no longer fits”, 2 January), David Willetts, the universities and science minister, omits to mention some of the unintended economic and social consequences:

  • Those with degrees are outstripping the number of traditional graduate-level jobs available. The higher graduate employment rate compared with non-graduates that Willetts quotes is a result of graduates taking lower level jobs. This is also rapidly eroding the graduate lifetime earnings differential
  • Employers fuel credentialism by demanding degrees for what were once non-graduate jobs. Furthermore, with higher degrees becoming more of a requirement for the best positions, students from more affluent backgrounds are usually the ones who have the wherewithal to pursue their studies to this level
  • The university status hierarchy is becoming more sharply defined. Middle-class students, for a variety of reasons, have better access to elite universities and higher-level graduate jobs, with the result that widening participation does not benefit working-class students equally well. Although some undoubtedly rise from rags to riches, many more are being sold a pup
  • Social mobility through a university education has become a mantra, but not everyone can have the top jobs in our unequal society. Whether it is a question of lack of ability or opportunity, the rhetoric of aspiration and meritocracy creates discontent among those who cannot succeed.

Add to all this an increasingly ethnically differentiated workforce, with employers turning to willing migrants to fill lower-skilled, lower-paid vacancies, and we begin to see that matters are not nearly as simple as the minister makes out.

Yanina Sheeran
Shipley, West Yorkshire

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

United Nations peace keeper

Understanding the unwritten rules of graduate study is vital if you want to get the most from your PhD supervision, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

Eleanor Shakespeare illustration (5 January 2017)

Fixing problems in the academic job market by reducing the number of PhDs would homogenise the sector, argues Tom Cutterham

Houses of Parliament, Westminster, government

There really is no need for the Higher Education and Research Bill, says Anne Sheppard

poi, circus

Kate Riegle van West had to battle to bring her circus life and her academic life together

man with frozen beard, Lake Louise, Canada

Australia also makes gains in list of most attractive English-speaking nations as US slips