The pandemic has caused many school leavers to turn to university due to a hostile job market post-pandemic.  

New research from skills organisation City & Guilds Group has found that many young people are going to university as a ‘default choice’ as the jobs market offers increased uncertainty.

Ahead of A-level results day, the data suggests that over half (57 percent) of UK 17-19-year-olds have stated that their decisions about post education work have changed because of the pandemic, with 20 percent saying that they now want to stay in full time education for longer than they originally anticipated.

Data from UCAS shows that university applications this year are at the highest level ever, up by 10 percent year-on-year among most 18-year-olds.

Four in ten 17-19-year-olds in their final two years of school report that they have planned or plan to go to university.

Among this group, it is clear that the current economic downturn has influences their decision, with 14 percent saying they are concerned about getting a job or apprenticeship straight out of school, and 14 percent believing that going to university is ‘the easiest thing to do’.

Young people are listing two main reasons for going to university, with 44 percent considering university the best way to get a job, and 39 percent confident they will get paid well if they have a degree.

However, recent research from Incomes Data Research shows that a graduate and a fully qualified degree-level apprentice could both expect to earn £32,500 on completion of their qualifications, and data from the ONS finds nearly four in ten of all graduates are unable to land a graduate level job.

Not only this, but businesses also continue to prioritise recruits that are work-ready, with data from City & Guilds Group’s Skills Index report finding that employers are twice as likely to look to take on apprentices or trainees to fill skills gaps (36 percent), as opposed to graduates (18 percent).

Kirstie Donnelly, CEO of City & Guilds, commented:

For many young people, the idea of university being the golden ticket to a great career is ingrained from an early age. But as the jobs landscape continues to reel from the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit, it’s more important than ever before to understand that this isn’t the only option available to them.

However, as more young people continue to choose university as a response to the uncertain jobs market, many believe that the rise in students choosing university as an option is something positive, particularly during the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Paul Redmond, Head of Careers and Employability at Liverpool University and a leading expert on the graduate recruitment market, states that university continues to be a valuable option, particularly in relation to recruitment:

Higher education does offer a unique set of opportunities which few of life’s other options can match.

University offers options, and in a rapidly changing world, options are worth their weight in gold.

One of the best ways to future-proof your long-term employability is education. The more you learn, the more agile and flexible you are to be able to take advantage of the changing world of work. [University] will certainly give you the ability to learn and relearn new skills and knowledge.