The chancellor (bless him, love him, squeeze him) in his recent autumn statement actually did something that might help the cause of students in the coming years. Once you get past all the middle class squealing about changes to stamp duty and the fact that he is still way off his targets to get the deficit down, even with his plans to take government spending back to 1930s levels, there was a little nugget about postgraduate education.
He is setting in motion student loans of £10,000 for any Masters subject from the start of the 2016-17 academic year. It is not perfect, of course (when is anything suggested by government ever more than a compromise?) but a positive step in the right direction should be applauded.
There are a couple of points to make though. One personal, one more general. My first bone to pick is… you couldn’t have done it earlier could you, George? I paid for my course myself, and instead of a low-interest loan that I could pay back in a manageable way I have used my own resources. And why does it have to be for students under 30 only? What about those of us who want to upgrade our skills, change or improve careers or generally make more of a contribution to the economy but happen to be in our 40s (or older)? To coin an old phrase: not good work fellah.
This brings me to the more important point. The Chancellor’s decision matters. It matters a lot because the world of work is changing. And it is changing fast and fundamentally. There are two major factors driving employment and the need to ensure you have the right skills to create and sustain a career has never been greater.
The first factor is the hourglass-shaped job market. A recent report in The Observer highlighted how the job market has changed from a pyramid shape where there are large numbers of jobs types and salary levels in the middle. These then thin out as you get towards the top of the pyramid. Now the pyramid has changed in to a market where the majority of the jobs are at the bottom with low wages and zero hours contracts, or at the top where high-level skills are required. This means that the middle level of jobs, so often the refuge of those with a decent degree, is no longer available.
The other issue is the computerisation of jobs. This is not the use of technology to make you a bit more efficient in preparing a spreadsheet. No, this means that we have not experienced the full power of computers in the workplace yet, but that is about to change. When it does huge numbers of job types, job levels and career paths will just disappear. A widely reported study by Oxford Martin School rates 700 different jobs and whether they have a future or not. That is, how likely they are to be replaced by a computer or a computerised process. You can find the full list with a quick Google search. It should be an essential part of your career planning. All I would say is you might want to think twice about that career in insurance underwriting or tax preparation.
For me these two events would seem to make education and career choices even more important than they ever have been. Which is why the government has done a good thing with the postgrad announcement. They have not gone far enough though. Why are they limiting the choices of those who want to progress their careers with more education later in life?
The perfect storm of structural change and computerisation that is hitting the job market means everyone needs to re-evaluate their decisions and options. Have you made the right choice of career? Are universities offering the right type of courses? Are employers rewarding skills and knowledge appropriately?
If you’re thinking about postgraduate study then you know what to do, get your application in now. Just make sure that you read that report first.