Bob Dylan returned to media pages last week, with his Nobel Prize generating a flood of articles on the significance and influence of his music.
Dylan’s scathing one-line condemnation of the American school system in the 1965 Subterranean Homesick Blues may have been a little premature, but it’s now becoming increasingly accepted, that if not heading directly for the ‘day shift’, then many of those who have completed approaching 20 years of full-time education are ending up in jobs for which they are hugely over qualified.
According to recent Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) research
half of new graduates are occupying jobs that were once occupied by non-graduates. This is not because of the increased technical sophistication or that these jobs are becoming more demanding. On the contrary and after a study of 29 occupations the CIPD reports the widespread under-utilisation of graduate skills and capabilities – with graduates making up a third of new post-office, bank clerks and teaching assistants and 41% of new police officers (sergeant and below).
This research also helps to debunk what’s referred to as ‘human capital’ theory – the argument that because increased levels of qualifications, reflect increased levels of skills, they command additional labour market rewards for the holder. From a human capital perspective then, an increase in graduates would lead to both increases in output and productivity, something that has hardly been the case in the UK economy.
Human capital theory also justifies the existence of a ‘graduate premium’ – the additional income graduates accrue, compared to non-graduates as being the result of their ‘marginal productivity’. But according to CIPD, though graduates, including those holding non-graduate jobs continue to earn significantly more (though how much more also depends on where and what they have studied) rather than increased skills leading to increased financial returns this is because the graduatisation of the job market has pushed others down further Rather than developing skills, qualifications are used to filter out certain types of applicants. Rather representing increases in potential productivity, qualifications are merely proxies matching different levels of qualifications to different jobs.
With university attendance increasingly expensive, average student debts being £44 000, half of which won’t be paid off, CIPD concludes that an alternative vocational route into the labour market would be a better form of investment for many. But though there have been many attempts in the UK, alternative vocational pathways have never really taken off or generated proper opportunities (this is certainly the case with Higher Level apprenticeships) so there appears to be no likelihood of any effective challenge to the university route