A Vital Public Sector Reform and Levelling Up Proposal
Get rid of graduate schemes and university degree requirements for public sector jobs that do not require a specific technical degree.
Instead, use skills-based assessments to select the best candidates
Widens the talent pool for potential candidates.
Can save money. Non-graduate salaries are on average £10k lower than graduate salaries, meaning jobs can be filled at lower salary levels.
Reduces discrimination and contributes to levelling up. People from underprivileged backgrounds are less likely to go to university. Older, more experienced workers are also less likely to have gone. If they have the talent, they should have equal access to government jobs.
Improves diversity in the public sector workforce, especially cognitive diversity. This is especially important As the Civil Service was widely criticised for its hostility to Brexit; public servants did not seem to represent the voters who paid them, or even care for their wishes.
In certain areas, it has been found that non-graduate employees have stronger skills than graduate employees, and can be more effective. Why exclude potentially better candidates?
Removing graduate stipulations reduces the incentive to go to university. That means more young people in the workforce, less student debt, and less public spending required for higher education.
Making vacancies open, accessible, and not intimidating
Below is a recent job advert for The Spectator for an online deputy editor. It is a skilled and rather prestigious job with a growing high-brow media organisation, yet look how accessible the advert is. There is nothing intimidating about it.
They just want to find the best candidate.
We have a no-CV policy and don’t care where (or even whether) you went to university. We don’t care (and don’t ask) about age, etc. The aim at The Spectator is simple: to serve our readers. We’re looking for someone who has:
Knowledge of The Spectator and what readers do (and don’t) expect from us.
A good understanding of SEO best practice.
A keen interest in current affairs that goes beyond nine to five engagement.
A well-developed sense of humour and the absurd.
Strong attention to detail and good organisational skills.
Versatility, enthusiasm and a willingness to learn.
Experience in working with Google Analytics and/or other data platforms (desirable).
Draft Op-Ed on the Trouble with Graduate Stipulations
Is this the End for the Grad Scheme?
This is the time of year when thousands of young men and women will wake in the small hours, put on a brand new suit, take a nervous look in the mirror and head out to their first ‘proper job.’ That job will, as likely as not, be a graduate programme. Today, every big company and every arm of government has one, and it’s high time they went. I am not talking about the many jobs that do require specific qualifications, such as engineers or doctors. I am referring to the majority of roles that just stipulate a degree of some sort.
Why the need? University degrees have become meaningless, in the sense that they do not guarantee anything. For a start we have completely debased the A-Level entrance exams for getting in. And anyway, you can get on a university course with an E.
Furthermore, many of the courses lack academic rigour, as GB News’ Alex Phillips explained in her superbly lyrical rant:
Once upon a time universities were for bibliophiles and boffins. People priming for a profession, be it law or medicine...then came the Nineties and a sleight of hand to paper over compressed wages and the saturated jobs market. And so education was homogenised and a degree attached to everything from circus studies to surfing, football to film...Then fees began to soar. Debts rack up for certificates barely worth the paper they were printed on. Today, the average student debt stretches to tens of thousands. Ten billion quid of student loans written off last year, with the taxpayer picking up the tab.
Indeed, the whole country seems to have discovered a gleeful unity in giving higher education a good kicking. The government’s own Augar Review was excoriating. Medeline Grant calls it a ‘toxic bubble.’ Toby Young has branded them ‘Left-wing Madrassas.’ Even Tony Blair’s son has joined in; bemoaning the mess his Dad’s quantity-over-quality system has created.
The trouble is, with nearly half of us going to university, and universities incentivised to give their student customers what they want, higher education no longer acts as a sorting system for the academically outstanding. There is no guarantee a university graduate is either literate or numerate, as the LSE's latest debacle, exposed by The Critic, illustrates. This time it concerned a student’s essay, in which (with shambolic grammar), said student proposed knifing anyone who disagreed with his opinion on trans rights. This semi-literate diatribe was highly praised by faculty and students alike. Thus, even students at elite universities like the LSE, may graduate without being able to form a reasoned argument.
So what does a degree actually represent? In the words of Phillips: “To render yourself grossly indebted for a three year bender and a photo with a fake scroll.” In the post-Covid world, you don’t even need to show up.
And with that in mind, how exactly are these once venerable institutions still earning the right to be the gatekeepers to so many well paid, prestigious and important vocations?
It’s a classic chicken-and-egg situation. University standards have collapsed, but the jobs market has not kept up. What’s left is, frankly, a racket. One in which youngsters must trade their youth for an aeon of ideological brainwashing and indentured servitude to a mortarboard mafia, just so they can get to a first round interview.
Why is someone eligible for a job because they borrowed fifty grand to read Astrology and Basket-Weaving at the University of Robin Hood, while hard working souls with decades of real life experience are not?
Many people simply do not have the option of going to University. They might not have the cash, or their help may be needed at home. Older people just didn’t get the chance. And it’s those reasons that make graduate stipulations so unfair on underprivileged groups. Just 22% of people from underprivileged households go on to university, and they are far more likely to drop out.
So far all we have had from the government on ‘Levelling Up’ is a lot of hot air. Abolishing grad shemes would be a good start. Instead, employers should specify the criteria they actually want: If you want literacy, ask for an essay. If you want numeracy, ask for an A-level in maths. If you want proof that someone can apply themselves at something over several years, there are plenty of alternatives: working as a carer, completing an apprenticeship, passing professional exams or building your own house are equally valid.
In fact they are probably better. Because it is not like university degrees prepare students well for what lies ahead. Today’s crop of Gen Z graduates are driving employers round the bend. The combination of helicopter parenting and universities that treat students like customers in a budget hotel, means they arrive on day one with a delusional sense of entitlement. They can’t just be left to get on with it: instead they need an endless feedback loop of vacuous praise. Every task has to be reframed as an ethical crusade to match their high-minded principles. And if things ever get tricky, out comes the ‘mental health issues’ card. That might be all very well, but a vital life lesson university needs to teach youngsters and does not, is that sometimes the world needs you to just suck it up and get the job done.
Fortunately, America, with its stratospheric tuition fees, is beginning to see the light. According to Harvard Business Review, they too have seen needless ‘degree-inflation’ across almost every industry, with jobs formerly done by non-graduates now requiring a degree. However, further research found that, in most cases the non-graduates were actually more effective than the grads! Slowly but surely, skills-based job creening taking off.
And that is expecially good, because those needy graduates don’t come cheap. According to the government, the median graduate salary is £10,000 more than for those who have not attended. With the Treasury and PM at war over public spending, wouldn’t removing the graduate stipulation be the easiest way ever for the government to save money?
While we are on the subject of the economy, might all this extra education be costing us dear?
At a time when we’re constantly hand-wringing over what to do about an ageing population and rising dependency ratios, an easy hack would be to encourage our young into decent jobs instead of university.
And there is an even more insidious side to over-graduation. To understand it, you have to go back some 500 years. In the 1400s one country led the world technologically and politically. It was China. Yet by 1600, China all but disappeared into obscurity for the next four centuries. What happened? As Niall Ferguson recounts, China had a system of incredibly rigourous civil service exams. These were basically academic endurance tests lasting several days. However, if you passed them, you were guaranteed a well paid job for life, with endless opportunities for corruption. Needless to say, more and more people forsook their occupations to take the exams, and passed. Eventually, China was overrun by educated jobsworths, paralsysing every corner of life with red tape and brown envelopes. The parasite grew too big for its host, and the empire withered away.
In his latest book, Doom, Ferguson explores the same idea from a different perspective. Looking at the history of crisis management, Ferguson finds again and again, that a glut of petty bureaucrats destroys our ability to manage and adapt to crises. Dominic Cummings’ parliamentary confessional can be summarised as, ‘In modern government, it is really hard to get anything done.’ We saw it in the Global Financial Crisis and we’ve seen it again with Covid. The wealthiest nations with the biggest budgets did not cover themselves in glory because layer after layer of micro-managers got in the way.
If too many third-rate academics can bring down an empire, they can certainly bring down a nation. Just like 15th century China, we have got ourselves into a nasty spiral of creating an ever growing stock of non-jobs for graduates to do. This is Sir Humprey at his most obfuscatory. The modern grad scheme is often little more than a life sentence spent wandering down joyless cul de sacs of committee politics, report writing, HR initiatives, regulatory compliance and box-ticking. Basically trying to look busy by being a nuisance to the rest of us. Simultaneously, our newspapers are full of business leaders panicking over shortages of people to do real jobs, like driving lorries or building houses.
For all these reasons, and for our sanity, we need to break the link between decent jobs and rubbish degrees. The sooner hard working non-graduates have a jobs market that is not rigged against them, the sooner our kids can save themselves several years and thousands of pounds of debt, and get to work.
It’s high time we graduated from grad schemes.