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Has the rise in student fees affected the job market?


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The number of university applicants has decreased by 7.7% over the past year, UCAS figures reveal. 


This comes as no surprise, however, as many leading universities, including Britain’s most popular universities, are demanding tuition fees of up to £9,000. 

But how will this reduced competition for places affect students when it comes to the job market?

Countries like China and South Korea where college application rates are some of the highest in the world also have some of the fiercest job markets. By that measure, reduced competition at an admissions level could potentially improve graduates’ job prospects in the long term - but only if the number of applicants continues to drop.

However, Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, believes this is unlikely to happen. In a BBC interview earlier this year she said, “If we look at how the dip worked in 2006, which is when tuition fees were originally introduced, they did recover in subsequent years.

“Furthermore, if you look at the number of 18 year olds then the dip is very much less, around about 4% in terms of applicants.”

Which, of course, would have no measureable effect on the job market.

Still, evidence suggests that the graduate labour market is showing signs of recovery. Could this be the start of an altogether better job market for graduates?

You guessed it – nope.

If you examine the recruitment methods of employers today, better odds and fewer applicants will not necessarily translate into more graduates being soaked up by major companies. Every year, top companies in the UK like HSBC, BP and BAE Systems reach the end of their recruitment cycle and about a quarter of them have hundreds of vacancies left they can’t fill because they can’t find the right graduate.

Which points to one conclusion: regardless of the level of competition, the biggest companies aren’t prepared to lower their standards.

And it’s not just big recruiters that decide the job market. Some of the leading universities like Edinburgh, Durham and Nottingham enjoyed a marginal increase in applications this time around, meaning their students are even less likely to profit from the wholesale dip in applicants.

What’s more, if you account for the 5% increase in applicants in 2011 the overall drop averages out at a much cooler 2.6%.

We also can't afford to forget that just because fewer people are attempting university doesn't mean fewer people are attempting the job market. One former student puts it perfectly when he says that the best option for students is to stop searching for a break and start knuckling down.

“No-one should expect these [UCAS] figures to make an iota of difference when it comes to finding a job in today’s economy” says Tom, an economics graduate from Manchester currently interning at HSBC.

“You have to go into university with the mindset that the £9000+ you are paying per year is a drop in the ocean compared to your salary at graduation.”

He continues: “Unless you strive for the best and take advantage of every opportunity the university has to offer then you may as well start looking for jobs elsewhere.”

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