The £400,000 myth

This has been bugging me for ages. Every time a politician talks about tuition fees in a positive way, they roll out the ‘a graduate earns over £400,000 more than a school leaver during their career‘ fact. Except it’s not a fact, it’s complete fiction. In fact, it’s old fiction – it was abandoned in 2002 after the DfES reviewed the figure and came back with a smaller sum of £120,000 before tax, while PWC found it to be £160,000. (Someone tell Michael Gove).

And even this is dodgy. It completely depends on what you study and choose to do. PWC found that doctors and dentists earn £340,000 more than the average earner in Britain, while arts and humanities graduates earn £34,000 more. A later study from Warwick found that arts student’s earn less than £3,000 over their career than those who do not go to university.

The other issue is that those arts and humanities that rack up £27,000 of tuition fee debt and over £10,000 of living expenses through loans means that even if PWC is right and they earn £34,000 more than the average earner, they’ll still be worse off.

So if arts and humanities graduates don’t earn more than school leavers, why do they go to university? Well, as I’ve said before, there are plenty of careers that erroneously require a degree. Trying to get experience in media, PR, publishing, HR, IT, management or admin without a degree is bloody hard, all with no real reason. So we are funneled into going to university to get us ‘good’ careers which we wouldn’t be able to get without a degree – but don’t actually earn us anything more.

And there’s the core of education – to learn, not necessarily to get a job. What is wrong with exploring and learning and coming to grips with who you are – after all, our brains don’t stop developing until we are 25 (some say 30)? Surely we want people to think, to know more, to interact with people from varied cultures to create a better, more advanced society. Isn’t that what university provides? Why isn’t that a good thing?

And why is no politician addressing those issues instead of wheeling out disproved ‘facts’ over and over again?


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