The question of whether or not to go to university isn’t quite the same as Hamlet’s quandary of life or death, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t caused similar levels of inner turmoil to millions as they approach the threshold of higher education.
Grab a coffee (or some mead if you’re enjoying the Shakespearean theme) and we’ll explore a question that has given millions of schoolkids a real headache over the years.
Times have changed
Parents often tell their children they need a degree to succeed. Aunties and uncles may tell you, “they’re the best years of your life; it’s worth it for the social side alone”. The thing is, that generation may well have gone to university when it was free, or at least a fraction of the cost attached today.
The number of graduates who look back and would have preferred to start employment three years earlier, with savings & real-world experience rather than debt & a degree, is also increasing. Getting on the housing ladder in your twenties and thirties is becoming ever-increasingly farfetched for many.
In England, the maximum annual fee is £9,250, which is just shy of £30,000 over the course of a 3-year degree, and that’s without accommodation factored in. In 2021-22, the average rent for university-owned rooms was £6,227 per year, while for private rooms, this was £7,732 (according to student housing charity Unipol).
This means that it’d typically cost a minimum of £45,000 to get through university, with living costs on top. Many parents won’t be able to help subsidise these rising costs, especially in the economic landscape we’re experiencing today (with inflation over 10% and energy, mortgages and rent all going through the roof, too).
The path into digital
Of course, to pursue certain disciplines, it’s quite clear cut – you need a degree. In medicine, law and architecture, for example, your career isn’t really going to get off the ground without one. Some careers require a postgraduate degree too.
But what about digital? If you know a particular specialism that you would like to pursue, you may be able to find a degree course that suits it perfectly. However, due to the speed the digital industry experiences change, it’s difficult for university curricula to keep up, and you may find your degree is teaching you things from 5-10 years ago – it happened to me!
If all you know is that you’d like to be in tech, you’re likely going to want to keep your options open. You can still do that by going to university and picking up a reasonably ‘generic’ tech degree such as Computer Science, which covers many aspects of digital and beyond. But there are other options: you could teach yourself online or find an internship or apprenticeship. Schemes like ‘Year in Industry’ have been around since the mid-1980s, offering students a place in engineering, science and IT companies across the country. These options are much cheaper and can often be much more relevant, focused & up-to-date.
This extra time after college-level education can often allow young people to gain a sample of the real world, a trial (often paid) in their preferred field. This can sometimes be more effective in finding the area that you don’t want to be in rather than crystallising your preferred choice. But it’s almost always valuable experience, and affords more time to think without the pressure of picking from a list thousands of UCAS options or sifting through a careers bible for 30 minutes with a teacher who definitely did not envisage ‘careers advisor’ to be part of their CV.
In recent years, we’ve seen a rising number of students that are self-learning, or learning through intensive boot camps, such as Northcoders. These are still quite costly at around £8,000, but they are much shorter, and more focused on gearing you towards the technologies that are used throughout the industry and have links with employers around the country to provide you real options at the end, often linking you directly with your new employer.
What do employers think?
If it’s employment you’re after, it would seem a sensible idea to look at it from an employer’s point of view. What are they looking for?
We asked our Head of Depts to rank the following in order of importance when deciding whether to employ someone:
- A Levels / IB Diploma
- Relevant Bachelor’s degree
- Relevant Master’s degree
- Vocational Courses / Apprenticeships
- Relevant experience
- Training course qualifications
- A portfolio
- Education-backed work experience
Out of those heading up our design, front-end engineering, software engineering (and related disciplines such as DevOps & QA), and delivery departments, none mentioned a relevant Bachelor’s degree in their top three. However, for our marketing disciplines, it did appear top of the list.
Two things that were in the top three across the board were relevant experience and a portfolio. Employers want candidates who are enterprising, have demonstrated their initiative, and can show the ability to problem solve, even in the earliest stage of their career. A degree may show you have intellect, but is that much use if you’re not willing to challenge yourself, get out of your comfort zone, learn new things & tackle real-world problems?
We think the latter stages of education should not just be about exams and coursework, and the early stages of employment should not just be based on the expectation to provide value as quickly as possible. What if we could treat the final years of education as a ramp-up towards employment, and the initial years of employment as a seamless continuation of that trajectory?
Introducing the Parallax Academy
So what has Parallax done about it? Well, it may sound cliché, but we believe you should try to be the change you want to see.
We set about finding a college-level institution that would be open to integrating the learning of the latest tools, technologies and languages into their Year 12 and 13 syllabus, whilst also allowing the students a day a week at Parallax, before they’ve even finished their education.
Luckily, we found just that, and with it our 2022/23 Parallax Academy cohort. During their day a week with us, they follow a set of tailor-made modules written by our staff that take the learnings from the classroom and apply them to projects similar to those that we do every day. By the time they reach the end of their education, they will be much better equipped for that difficult university conversation with their parents, and they may even have a job lined up already.
As part of our ongoing commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion, we have also asked the college institution to allow us to come into the college and talk to those who may feel that they’re not welcome in our industry, whether it be their gender, race, religion or any other protected characteristic. Our aim is to show them that they are very much welcome and, indeed, encouraged to be the future of digital.
If you’re currently thinking about your future and would like to speak to us for some advice, or even a position, please get in touch and ask for our People dept. We’d love to hear from you.