Update (August 2016): A recent report by a think tank called the Intergenerational Foundation has looked in detail at the so-called graduate premium. This is the extra amount on average that graduates will earn over their working lives compared with those who do not go to university. They concluded that the size of this "premium" has often been hugely inflated by politicians and others and that this amounts to a case of mis-selling.
The thing is that discussing a single, average figure is highly misleading because the returns to an individual vary so much by degree subject, university attended and the student’s personal background (such as whether they attended a state or private secondary school).
Lots of graduates end up doing jobs where they earn enough to have to make repayments on their student debt and this could effectively cancel out most of the uplift in salary they get from being a graduate in the first place. While the report definitely isn’t intended to put young people off from attending university, it should make young people and their parents weigh up very carefully the real value of the degree they are buying through their student loan repayments.
So is getting a degree a great idea or not?
Governments of every stripe in recent years have said a big “Yes!” to this and have pumped vast sums into expanding higher education. Universities have been turned into businesses that compete aggressively with each other to attract customers. When the costs started to balloon, tuition fees and student loans were brought in.
Faced with various half truths and the occasional downright lie from the government propaganda machine and the universities’ marketing departments, what are school leavers and their worried parents to do?
I have set out below the actual, real world reality as I see it. It should help you to weigh up the various options.