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University: does a degree pay? | The Economist

The pressure for school-leavers to get a university degree is rising across the world. But does further education lead to better pay and opportunities?

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Is university worth it? Many believe further education is the key to success. Around half of school leavers in the rich world have degrees and the share in rising in poorer countries. Governments say it boosts social mobility and economic growth.

In South Korea 70% of young workers are graduates, up from 37% in 2000 but half the country’s unemployed have degrees.

Globally students pay huge tuition fees at a time when they could be earning. In America students spend about $30,000 a year on fees and lose out on $60,000 of wages during a four-year course.

The educational bar has been raise for everyone accessing jobs. Degrees are now demanded for jobs that once didn’t need them. In 1970, 16% of registered nurses in America had bachelor degrees. By 2015 that number had grown to 60%.

Yet the rise in the number of degrees has not led to higher pay for all. Of the professions that have increased their number of graduates over the past 50 years nearly half have seen wages fall in real terms and the future is uncertain.

AI will disrupt the jobs market. The rise of short, work-focused courses in fast-growing fields, such as IT, would provide life-long training for all workers.

Currently young people are ill-served by expensive degrees. It is time for a radically different approach.

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