University fee increases create discussion for employers

  21st April 2011      
 Company News, Employment

With the advent of proposed increases to university fees it has caused a shadow of doubt to many employers and the education that some great talent might miss out on. When government minister’s agreed a cap on fees at £9,000 per year, most thought this would only affect the Oxbridge quality of universities. However with recent cuts and an ever growing surge of university applications, more and more universities are following suit to place the £9,000 price tag onto their courses. For those who do decide to abandon higher education how will this impact the future job market and are we going to lose out to home grown genius.

A recent government report from Opening Doors, Breaking Barriers – which made it a goal to ensure “that everyone has a fair chance to get a better job than their parents” — recognised that social mobility is a real concern.

But Donna Miller, European HR director at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, is more optimistic stating “Looking at the bigger picture, things haven’t really changed,” she said. “Fees will be due after graduation, after you’ve secured a job, after you’re earning at a certain level. So nobody has to come up with that money up front, which is good.” She continues “There will be plenty of opportunity for financial aid, loans, scholarships and grants and options to get people through.”

It is thought that some employers are already taking the issue on board and wondering if they really do need university graduates at all and whether the ability to learn on the job, quality communication skills, a positive approach and willingness to work are the way ahead.

There is also interesting moves towards sponsoring a student as shown by KPMG. With this unique strategy which was launched in January; funding the cost of studying and also guarantees participants a job with them at the end.
Alison Heron, senior recruitment manager at KPMG, said: “I think the tuition fees rise will have an impact and our answer to it is our school leaver programme. The programme was already on the cards before the fees rise was announced, but it is very timely.” She explains “The onus is on the employer to target people from different backgrounds, who may not even know they exist or what the opportunities are.”

Alternatives which have been much discussed in the media are the rise of apprenticeship schemes, offering non-graduates a less structured opportunity for those wishing to learn outside of university constraints. This is the approach IBM has taken.

Jenny Taylor, IBM’s graduate scheme manager, said: “One thing we have seen is apprenticeships becoming a hot topic as people talk about the fees rise for universities. Apprenticeships are being seen as an alternative route for school leavers. “I think other large employers will do what we have done, keep their graduate scheme but also diversify into things like apprenticeships to widen their portfolio to capture all the talent.”

Looking in a different way these fee increases might work to the advantage of job sectors which offer a myriad of new vacancies and are reaping fantastic career opportunities and salaries. These being science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) based sectors.

Whichever way the impact of tuition fee rises goes remains to be seen, however it is not too early for employers to be thinking about where the next generation of talent is coming from. Either through their own initiative schemes, alternative thinking or will we look to have to look abroad.

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