Is a Postgraduate degree the new Undergraduate degree? At what cost?

With a larger number of young people obtaining undergraduate degrees, is it easier for companies to become complacent concerning training requirements and expectant concerning the level of higher education their employees must have to enter the corporate world?

According to Statista, in 2021 there were over 750,000 applications for university made in the United Kingdom, of which 562,000 were accepted. Compared with 1994, when there were 405,000 applications for university, there has been a net increase of approximately 345,000 applications, with applications peaking in the most recent reporting year.

With this increase has an undergraduate qualification now become an expected norm in industry and an educational prerequisite for many jobs? It is easy to perhaps think that these degrees no longer make a candidate stand out. Is an undergraduate degree less valuable now? If so, what is making employees stand out?

One thought is that postgraduate degrees are what undergraduate degrees used to be. Now employers are looking for candidates with higher levels of education to differentiate from the candidate pool. Master’s degrees, MBAs and doctorates are all now becoming the baseline standard of top-level jobs, whilst undergraduate degrees are merely expected.

Is it right to question the possibility of ‘credential inflation’ and should the impact of this be examined in the hospitality industry? Many young people are having to invest in higher levels of education at a personal cost, simply to stand out on their Curriculum Vitae. Should the hospitality industry be investing money and time in the professional development of young people aspiring to a career in hospitality, rather than expecting applicants to possess undergraduate degrees, often in totally unrelated fields.

Prior to 1998, public universities in England were fully funded by local education agencies and the national government such that college was completely tuition-free for full-time domestic students, but this is clearly no longer the case. Many young people now leave university with an undergraduate degree but also a £40,000 debt. As university fees continue to increase and student debts increase, tertiary education is becoming increasingly expensive for individuals, especially when undergraduate degrees are perhaps becoming less valued.

Although MBAs are highly valued in the hospitality industry, a PhD in physics for example, whilst an indicator of a high level of intellect, may not produce transferable skills in hospitality. There are two strands of thought regarding this, of course. Analytical thinking, teamwork and professional writing can be developed at high levels in any subject of education and can be transferred to several industries with a small amount of training, but there is growing concern about the disconnect between academia and industry and what is necessary for success in the workplace.

As individuals invest in higher levels of tertiary education is it possible to contemplate the equal benefit of focusing on learning and work experience in industry? Are we now placing value on Postgraduate studies when we should be accepting Undergraduate study as achievement enough?

Despite a personal belief that further education and acquiring knowledge is always a positive thing perhaps there is a need to recognise that industry training is in fact another equally valuable form of education. We have entered an era where individuals have access to an increasing amount of knowledge and education which can be developed in a multitude of formats, perhaps this is something that both the hospitality industry and individuals need to have faith in. Real life work experience, undergraduate and postgraduate degrees all have value in equipping individuals with high levels of expertise, so perhaps all knowledge is good knowledge and a workplace with individuals with varying levels of formal education will improve industry overall.

Written by Lexie Cook, EP Business in Hospitality