‘Degree or not degree- that is the question’


Andy Alvarez

Now, before anyone starts debating the importance of a degree or university education- this article is NOT about discrediting anyone that has dedicated so much of their lives to education and put in an immense level of focus to achieve something incredible.

If you have a degree- I applaud you! And yes, I know- there are some roles that you absolutely need a degree for- let’s face it, who would want to undergo brain surgery carried out by someone that didn’t have the right qualifications!

This article is to shine the light on those that DON’T have the opportunity to attend higher education because of their own personal circumstances.

Some key information for you… (credit to Sutton Trust Blog for the following statistics)

1- The UK has lower social mobility than other advanced countries- We are the 5th richest country in the world! (International Monetary Fund)

2- 3000 state educated children that achieved top A level grades to get them into the most prestigious universities never go for a variety of reasons

3- 4 private schools and 1 elite college sent more students to college in 3 years than 2000 schools across the UK!

So what are the reasons that the 3000 state educated pupils did NOT attend University I hear you cry! Well, lets start with the obvious – Money!

On average, JUST attending University for a 3 year degree will set you back approximately £27,750. Then let’s add in accommodation.. average is £641 per month (savethestudent.org)- so £23076 for 3 years. A combined total of £50,826 for 3 years.

And that’s just education and a place to live. When you add in everything else on top of that it becomes unthinkable.

So imagine you come from a family that are classed as living in poverty (60% of the median household income.

In April 2022 the Median was £640 per week according to ONS data. This is approximately £380 per week) where your family are working really hard to even keep the heating on- how in the world will you be able to put money aside for a ‘better’ education for your children?

This data doesn’t take into account the current hardships families’ are facing now with higher costs of living and mass unemployment.

As well as not being able to afford to go to University, you also have ‘duty’. Many children have passed up the opportunity for further education in order to bring money into the household to support their families’.

Do they WANT to do this- not out of choice. They want to be getting that education that leads them to bigger and better things- but we all know children are growing up quicker, and the things some of us may have taken for granted growing up becomes a luxury. Without that additional income coming into the house, things will become unbearable.

Alongside this, many children do not grow up in a loving, caring safe environment. So at the first opportunity they are going to leave. So they look to rent, but they need money don’t they? So they need to get a job. In this instance- survival wins over dreams and aspirations.

There are many more scenarios out there that are valid reasons for not attending University. I’ve just tried to highlight 3 reasons that may not be at the forefront of everyones thoughts.

Just because someone didn’t go to University doesn’t mean it was because you’re thick, lazy or can’t be bothered.

I’ve recruited many levels of roles over the past 14 years of leadership. The rule that I have always stuck to is ‘attitude over aptitude’.

If you have someone that is really driven, eager and wants to learn- don’t look past them because they didn’t go to University.

Some things that can be done by employers

  • Remove the need for ‘educated to degree level’ or similar expectations on your job adverts. There are VERY FEW roles in the industry or even financial services that require your role to need someone that has a degree. What do they need a degree in? understanding how to talk to and build relationships with people? Send an email? Figure out how to use Teams? If it’s not relevant for the role- don’t put it in. It’s amazing how many fantastic people out there would discount your job because of this line in your advert.


  • REALLY CREATE an inclusive culture in your business. Don’t make someone feel they are less important or stupid because they didn’t get a higher education. Or they speak differently. Or they don’t use the ‘perfect grammar’ (you can probably tell by the way I’ve written this article that I didn’t go to University when I was younger!). So what if they use too many commas (or not enough!) in an email asking you if they can have a day off? Or they say wa’er instead of water? Inclusion is what you do, Diversity is what you get.


  • Use some of that training budget to give them the opportunities that are really meaningful. Not just to attend a course on something that never gets followed up or supported by their line manager and practically is irrelevant. Yes, I understand you are scared that once they become ‘better educated’ that they can leave. However, as Richard Branson said- ‘Train people well enough so they can leave, but treat them well enough that they would want to stay’. If your culture in your business is that good- you shouldn’t have any concerns, right? I had the opportunity of obtaining a post graduate degree in strategic leadership a couple of years ago, it really helped sharpen me up and become more well rounded.


  • And finally- look outside the box when you are recruiting for entry level roles. There are so many charities out there that support underprivileged children. Could you work with them to help give someone deserving an opportunity? There are so many ‘trainee’ roles out there at the moment- why don’t you look at doing your part for society and help break that cycle.