Surprising Fall in UK’s Graduation Rates


Although current trends suggest that more young people in the UK are going to University, as a degree becomes increasingly vital to starting a career, the graduate league table can in fact reveal a sharp dip in the UK’s number of graduates. Analysis conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that the UK had the third highest graduation rate out of industrialised countries in 2000. However, this has since plummeted to 15th in 2008.

One explanation for this trend could be that more young people today are earning their degrees in Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic, as a recent report highlights. Furthermore, the UK is not investing as much in higher education as other countries, such as Germany and Sweden, a potentially questionable strategy regarding the UK’s economic recovery. Steve Smith, president of UUK, warns that we should ‘question the sustainability’ of our current position, suggesting that more should be invested into equipping young people with degrees.

According to the OECD, there is an increasing demand for ‘highly qualified workers’, as they tend to be associated with a ‘highly skilled labour force’. In terms of higher education, Finland, Canada and Japan are now regarded as the strongest competitors.

Reinforcing this evident need for the UK to catch up with other countries and take higher education more seriously, Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the University and College Union, points out that ‘we have plummeted down the graduate league table, going from a major player to a relegation candidate in less than a decade’.

Worryingly, Wendy Piatt, who is connected to the Russell Group of research-intensive Universities, argues that the UK ‘risks jeopardising the competitive advantage which has made its Universities the envy of the world’.

The minister for Universities and Science, David Willett, has reacted to this concern and draws attention to the action already being taken in ‘funding an extra 10,000 [university]places’ and also points out that ‘more people than ever are starting university this autumn’. Willett’s points suggest that there is a brighter future for the UK in terms of increasing graduation, as opposed to current trends.


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