Why get a university degree? The answer is clear: To improve your employability

Montserrat Álvarez. Fundación CYD

December 21, 2021 13:21 (CET)

Are universities ready for online learning?

Not only does studying at university give you the opportunity to increase your knowledge and skills, but it also represents a life-enhancing experience, offering the chance to meet people of different origins or the possibility of living and studying abroad through mobility programmes, such as Erasmus. Apart from that, if you successfully complete your degree, you are likely to enjoy better work possibilities. This is clearly demonstrated by the information available for EU and OECD countries.

Higher employment rates; lower unemployment rates

An initial observation that can consistently be made is that the higher the level of your qualifications, the higher the employment rate, and the lower the unemployment rate.  According to Eurostat data, if the employment rate for EU university graduates aged between 25 and 64 in 2020 is compared with that for the population in this age group as a whole, it can be seen that it was 14.6% higher, while the unemployment rate was 30.9% lower. This competitive advantage in the job market for those with university qualifications is repeated in each and every one of the countries of the Union.

To be precise, in 2020 86% of EU university graduates between 25 and 64 years of age were working, compared with 75% of those with post-compulsory education qualifications that are not classified as higher education, and 56% of those who did not continue in education after completing their compulsory studies. The respective figures for the unemployment rate (the percentage of people who are unemployed among those actively participating in the labour market) are 4.4%, 5.6% and 12.5%.

The crisis has had less impact

In addition, the economic crisis resulting from the measures adopted to deal with the health emergency arising from Covid-19 has not caused as much harm to university graduates as to the rest of the population.

Thus, in 2019 and 2020 the evolution of the employment statistics for university graduates was not so disruptive as for people with a lower level of education: in fact, in the EU as a whole, the number of university graduates in employment increased by 6.6%, in contrast to the negative changes experienced by those with a lower level of education (-2.5% for those who did not progress beyond the level of compulsory education, and -6.3% for those completing non-tertiary post-compulsory studies).

The lower relative impact of the labour market crisis on higher education graduates compared with the rest, particularly in terms of employment, is partly due to the increased likelihood of teleworking in occupations requiring a higher level of qualifications; these are the posts that university graduates are most likely to occupy, since in most cases it is easier to digitalize their tasks.

Less temporary and part-time work

It is also true that the higher the educational level you have, the better your conditions of employment. As a result, a lower proportion work part-time and, in the case of those who work for others, in other words who are employees, a lower proportion have only temporary contracts. For the EU as a whole, among the population aged between 25 and 64, the temporary employment rate in 2020 was 3% lower, and the proportion of part-time workers 11% lower among university graduates compared with the population as a whole without any differentiation on the basis of educational qualifications.

More specifically, in Europe as a whole, the percentage of temporary contracts among salary-earning university graduates is 10%, about 6% below the figure for those who did not study beyond the level of compulsory education, while 15% of university graduates in employment work part-time, compared with 17% of those with non-tertiary post-compulsory studies and 21% of those with only primary studies.

Higher income

And, most importantly, income from employment grows as you increase your level of education. According to the 2019 data from the OECD publication Education at a Glance 2021, the earnings of a graduate with a university degree are 43% higher than those of someone with post-compulsory non-tertiary studies and those of a master / doctoral degree, 87% higher (when full-time workers between 25 and 64 years of age employed all year round are specifically considered).

When compared with the earnings of those with no more than the compulsory education level, the earnings of bachelor’s degree graduates are 73% higher and those of master / doctorate graduates more than double. This wage premium resulting from having a higher level of education can be observed in each and every one of the OECD countries.

By area of study

Various studies and statistical analyses, such as the Encuesta de Inserción Laboral de Titulados Universitarios (Survey of the Employability of University Graduates) in Spain, or U-Multirank itself, reveal that the results differ depending on the field of study. University graduates in fields such as mathematics and statistics, engineering and related professions, computer science or medicine obtain better indicators than those who graduate in fields such as the arts and humanities, journalism, psychology, sports science or tourism. Consequently, a higher proportion of those in the first group are employed, and, considering those who work, a greater proportion have indefinite, full-time contracts; they also receive a higher salary. In addition, they are better suited to their posts, insofar as a relatively small percentage are employed in a position for which such a high level of studies is not required or working in a field that is not related to their own area of studies.

But, in any case, whatever degree is studied, a university graduate usually enjoys better employment opportunities than someone with a lower level of studies. This is an empirical rule that is regularly repeated in all countries. So, from a work point of view, there can be no doubt when trying to decide whether to go to university or not. The effort you will have to make to graduate will eventually be well worthwhile.


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