As the cost of a university education rises, students want to know whether investing in a degree is worthwhile. The answer is nearly always yes. Irrespective of financial gains, a three or four year undergraduate course stimulates the mind, develops high order processing skills, fosters independence, broadens horizons, develops self confidence and is fun. Today’s students, however, need to do their sums. With average student debt on graduation forecast to rise to £53,000 eighteen year olds want to know that the degree gain will offset the tuition fee pain.
The welcome answer is that it does and on average employees with a degree earn £6.26 per hour more than those without. (Figures taken from the 2011 labour force survey reveal that in the UK the median hourly rate of pay for graduates aged 21-64 was £15.18, 70% more than the non graduate rate of £8.92). The pay differential between graduates and non graduates means that it will take a graduate about 8500 hours of work at the higher graduate hourly rate to earn the £53,000 cost of a degree. This is equivalent to over four years work, and assuming graduates start their careers at 21 rather than 18, it will take at least seven years on average to catch up with non graduates.
Once graduates have made up the missing financial ground they do enjoy a graduate premium. The Institute of Public Policy Research estimates that on average graduates earn £98,000 more over their working lives than those with ‘A’ levels only.
However, there is a significant variation in graduate earning potential by subject. Medicine and dentistry attract the highest median hourly rates at £21.29, with Maths, Engineering and Technology graduates coming next at £18.92. They are followed by the Sciences at £17.74 with law finishing in a mid table position at £16.95. The lowest rates of pay are for those with Arts (£12.06 per hour) and Humanities (£14.63 per hour) degrees.
The UK figures lack precision because they record salary by degree category, and the categories involved are broad. More detailed figures can be drawn from US research where data for individual degree subjects are known. US data confirms that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) degrees lead to the highest salaries with the number one position going to Medicine, and number two to Computer Science.
More attention needs to be focused to the importance of Computer Science. We live in a computerised world, which will only become more hi-tech. The industrial revolution has given way to the computer revolution, and it is software and hardware companies that generate twenty-first century wealth and employment. Yet the numbers studying Computing in U.K. schools is falling, with a 4.8% decline in ‘A’ level candidates in the last year alone. Yes, there is a lot of digital literacy of the how to use excel and powerpoint variety taught in schools, but there is very little serious study of computer programming and related maths and electronics. As Eric Schmidt, Google Chairman, said last year: “The British curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software but gives no insight into how it’s made. That is just throwing away Britain’s great computing heritage”.
Too many British schools are spending too much time arguing about how their students access digital information – the classic apple or android debate. It is more important that we teach children not just how to use ipads or Chrome Books but how to build and programme them. Accessing the digital superhighway is one thing, building it is another. The acquisition of computer programme languages is as important as the learning of foreign languages. UK schools are starting to wake up to the significance of Computer Science with a proliferation of code and programming clubs but there is much catching up to do. Computer Science really needs to become the fourth science in the curriculum alongside Biology, Physics and Chemistry.
Computer Science is a degree worth having, and we need to do more in schools to promote the subject and the benefits it will bring to the economy, society and the individual.