Many graduates lack numeracy and literacy skills expected from degree, OECD boss says. One in four graduates in England and Northern Ireland are working in jobs for which they are overqualified and do not require a degree, according to a major international education report. The study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development found that while graduate unemployment rates in the UK are among the lowest in the world, students are more likely to end up in non-graduate jobs associated with lower incomes.
Andreas Schleicher, the OECDs director of education and skills, said too many young people emerging from university were ending up in low-paid, non-graduate jobs in the UK because they lacked the basic numeracy and literacy skills that should be expected from a university education.
The findings, based on data from an OECD survey of adult skills among workers aged 25-64, found that in England 28% of adults with a degree said they were overqualified for their jobs, while in Northern Ireland it was 24%. The problem was far less acute elsewhere, with an average of 14% of university-educated workers across OECD countries in jobs suitable for school leavers.
Schleicher said: “What we see is that a lot of people in the UK get a university degree but end up in a job that does not require that degree. When you test the skills of those people you actually see that those people dont have the kind of skills that would be associated with a university degree.”
The OECD director was speaking at the London launch of the OECDs annual Education at a Glance survey for 2018, which compares educational systems and attainment in countries around the world.
Though the UK has succeeded in opening up access to universities, with more than half of young adults now going on to higher education, the report points out that tuition fees in England – which now stand at £9,250 a year – are higher than any other OECD country apart from the US.
The report also points out that 40-45% of the value of the loans will never be repaid. Schleicher said this was partly because graduates could not get jobs with big enough salaries to make the repayments.
“The first thing we see is that lots of people [in the UK] get a university degree – the UK ranks quite high,” Schleicher said. “The second thing we see is, for some of them, the wage premium is not particularly great. So you ask yourself, whats the reason? It could be that not many degrees are needed, or it could be that the quality of those degrees is not good enough.
“We have no indication that the UK economy does not need more advanced skills. The question is more about, how can we ensure that every university degree gives young people the kind of skills that they have paid for.”
Schleicher called on the government to provide greater quality assurance for students.
“I do believe that a government that asks students to pay significant fees should also have a hard look at the quality of the services that are being provided to deliver for those students.”
The study found that despite high tuition fees and concerns about migration targets, UK universities remain popular with international students. In 2016, the UK attracted 14% of all international students across OECD countries, the second highest share after the US.
The education secretary, Damian Hinds, said the studyhighlighted the strengths of the UK education system, placing it among the top three countries for education spending as a proportion of gross domestic product. On universities, he said the UK offered some of the most generous support for students in OECD countries.
“The result of this is that, as the report recognises, we have high levels of young people in education or employment, the financial gains from going to university outstrip the cost, and people are more likely to continue learning throughout their lives.”
A separate piece of research, meanwhile, has suggested that a degree from a non-elite university may damage the job prospects of women from wealthy backgrounds who are less likely to find secure employment than if they have no degree at all.
Researcher Maria Holcekova analysed survey data on 4,281 women in England from different socio-economic backgrounds to examine the effects of their educational qualifications on their careers.
According to her findings around 30% of women graduates from the highest socio-economic group went to a Russell Group university. When they were 25, 16% of those were doing shift work, 2% were on a zero-hour contract and 14% were “underemployed”, working in jobs where their degrees were not needed.
Of the 70% graduates who went to a non-elite university, 28% were doing shift work, 3% were on a zero-hour contract and 17% were underemployed. Among those without a degree, meanwhile, 19% were doing shift work, 2% were on a zero-hour contract and 30% were underemployed.
“Graduating from non-Russell Group university increases the probability of insecure employment, such as shift work or zero-hours contracts, compared to those without a degree,” said Holcekova.