Graduating No Longer Guarantees a Promising Career after Three Years; the Results Are in and the Clearing Process Is Well under Way. as A-Level Students Up and Down the Country Plan Their Next Step into Higher Education, Record Numbers Face a Desperate Scramble for University Places. but with Spiralling Costs and Unprecedented Competition, Gareth Evans Asks Whether the Stresses and Strains Are Really Worth It?
Byline: Gareth Evans
TODAY marks the dawn of a new era for thousands of students across Wales, but what happens next is by no means certain.
Record numbers are expected to be disappointed and could need to look elsewhere. Fortunately, scoring a degree is not the only key to being successful.
Music mogul Simon Cowell left school with no qualifications and Sir Richard Branson ducked out at 16 to launch a magazine.
A limited education has done neither particularly badly, and starting work in your teens has never been so appealing.
University vice-chancellors are this year expecting fewer places, despite a UK Government pledge to increase numbers by 10,000.
Society is changing at an alarming pace and higher education is undoubtedly the 21st century norm. But the phenomenal rise in demand, triggered by a debated rise in standards, is in danger of bringing the system to an abrupt halt.
The number of students predicted to lose out this year could be as high as 200,000 following an increase in applications of more than 11%.
Knuckling down and working hard no longer guarantees progress, as it might have done 30 years ago.
The reality is that highly-motivated and qualified learners are now commonplace and still struggling to find work years after graduating.
A university degree, in all its different guises, is not as saleable as it once was - and anything less than a 2:1 is regularly frowned upon.
Those lucky enough to progress into higher education are met with a wealth of options, from the traditional to the outright bizarre. There is literally something for everyone in institutions the length and breadth of the land. Selection is crucial and the likelihood of future employment must be weighed against short-term credibility and enjoyment.
Some qualifications, so narrow and niche, confine their reader to incredibly limited opportunities.
There are only so many forensic experts and sports scientists in the world and vacancies are scarce.
But university is as much about social mobility and "finding oneself" as it is classroom learning.
The pressures of settling down in a new town or city cannot be underestimated as young learners evolve into young adults in a little under three years.
But is a crash-course in life skills and the headache of a highly-competitive jobs market really worth the predicted pounds 25,000 debt? According to the results of this week's Push Student Debt survey, UK undergraduates now owe on average pounds 5,600 for each year of study. Fees have gone up, the cost of living has spiralled and the "bank of mum and dad" is running dry after the recession.
Average debt for students at university in Wales is, at pounds 6,411, considerably greater than anywhere else.
UK Universities Minister David Willetts provided hope this week, declaring: "Graduates on average have better employment prospects and can expect to earn at least pounds 100,000 net of tax, more than non-graduates across their working lives."
But, as defiant NUS Wales president Katie Dalton has warned: "The governments in Westminster and Cardiff Bay need to ensure that they are taking action to provide young people with education, employment and training opportunities and do not relegate a generation of young people to the dole queue."
The conundrum is clear for all to see and the plethora of recent university-fuelled press coverage has thrown up few surprises.
Government plans to scrap the fixed retirement age has not helped, with new workers hindered by older staff wanting to stay in employment beyond their 65th year.
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) this year saw a 63% rise in applications from the over-25s. …