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Half of UK university students think degree is poor value for money (theguardian.com)
140 points by mocko 33 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 143 comments

> Nearly half of all students thought their degree offered poor value for money this year according to a survey that sheds light on the scale of student anger with their universities’ response to the pandemic

Emphasis mine on "this year".

> Twice as many students thought their courses offered poor value (44%) than in 2019-20

So it used to be better in non-pandemic years.

Seems that some people is jumping to conclusions about education in the UK when the article is specifically about presidential/non-presidential and other pandemic challenges.

It's embarrassing how many of the comments here are quite obviously based entirely on reading the headline and nothing else. I read the article when I saw it in The Guardian yesterday, it is of course entirely about changes during the pandemic, not a general conversation about higher education.


but yeah i totally get they feel they're not getting their money's worth with zoom classes..

> presidential?

Upsy-daisy. It sounds cooler, thou.

As in most countries in Europe, the value of a university degree is diminishing because the vast majority of population has it. If back in the day,it used to be 10-20% tops, now in some countries it's as high as 60-80%, while at the same time competing for jobs that often don't require such education to start with.

[Edit] I still remember how not so long time ago it wasn't uncommon to have masters as a bare minimum when hiring a secretary in my country...

I think you make a good point, but your numbers seem way off. What countries are you aware of that even get close to 60-80% of completed college education? The list below shows the highest at 61% for Canada (between the ages of 35-44) [1]. But that list is also including things like community college, trade schools, and other forms of professional development. It seems to me that a much more accurate range is something like 25-40% for most developed countries.

I think what is really going on with degrees being a poor investment, is that most degrees don't actually teach valuable skills or they do and the students just don't actually put in the necessary work to achieve those skills. Instead treating it as a game of how to pass while putting in as little work as possible. That was at least my experience TAing computer science courses. Most students were just not mature enough to value the education that was being offered.

EDIT: A more generous interpretation to the students would be that they were simply jaded after a lack luster and uninspiring high school education plus a similar experience in probably many of the college classes they were taking.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_tertiary_...

> students just don't actually put in the necessary work to achieve those skills

While obviously this does happen, I think degrees do teach valuable skills and many students put in obscene levels of work to learn the material, resulting in ever-increasing competition for basically every facet of the job market - from university admissions all the way through job interviews. To me the issue isn’t students not understanding the true value of their education (and who could blame them? How is a 20 year old to know why their professor planned things out the way he did or why they are not learning Python as the blogosphere insists?). The real issue is that - like the article said - the benefits of this extra work seem marginal. Either way you will be competing against hundreds for entry level software development jobs with the greatest discriminator being referrals and prior industry experience. Whether you put in 8 extra hours a week to truly understand Dijkstra doesn’t get you much in the way of an interview.

Yes, you are correct, I was quite far off with the numbers,not quite sure why I thought it was so high.

> If back in the day,it used to be 10-20% tops, now in some countries it's as high as 60-80%, while at the same time competing for jobs that often don't require such education to start with.

The change is because employers love degrees... they prove that a job applicant can reliably get out of bed and do quality work in a timely fashion (and thus reduce the risk for the employer to hire someone who turns out to be a "bad fit", have mental health issues etc.), and especially the IT degrees have a large part of knowledge transfer and training in them that the employer doesn't have to pay for like in a classic apprenticeship.

Academia should be a place for science and those interested in advancing it, not for employers to save costs on vetting and training (by placing the burden on the government and/or the students)!

> Academia should be a place for science and those interested in advancing it

Any place in it for the Arts?

Which is a good thing. More high educated people is better. Back in the days only a handful of people with the right background were able to study. Yes it might diminish the value of a degree. Now actual additional skills and experience are needed to stand out. I am totally fine with this. Gone are the days of arrogant students thinking their degree is automatically bring them wealth (ok not entirely true in lots of countries). But still. We are heading into the right (not always perfect) direction.

It's a catastrophe. Academics have always grossly oversold their own importance and the "value" of what they teach.

The most valuable education is at the primary level (0 to 10 years old); then secondary (to 18); and tertiary education hardly has any effect whatsoever.

By the point you're an adult, you aren't being "moulded" into anything, you're merely acquiring particular useful bits of knowledge that only have value if you're going to use them.

What we have now is people spending tens of thousands to avoid earning money for several years; and thereby avoiding acquiring useful skills.

And this is an economic catastrophe which burdens everyone in society and grossly misdirects public funds.

I would be very supportive of an 12mo "generic higher learning skills" programmes being deployed at this scale. ie., something closer to a teenager-to-gradscheme transition programme which could include higher-level generic maths, writing, humanities, etc. skills.

However what we have now is a gigantic tulip-style bubble that needs bursting or else we will continue to needlessly in-debt the next generations of people.

The emperor really has no clothes on: your* degree really was a waste of money....

(* perhaps less so for HN readers )

> and tertiary education hardly has any effect whatsoever.

This is the education I use all the time to make money. It matters that I can write and do arithmetic, but my entire career is based on what I learned after the age of 18.

Everyone's job relates to skills acquired post-18, necessarily so. The question is what role a university plays in that; and whether it actually provides those skills. Or whether, for example, the job itself can.

I started programming as a child, and used this irc-gained knowledge and self-study to earn money till c. 26.

I studied physics during. Much of what I make money with now was gained via MIT/Stanford/et al. initially on iTunes U, and latterly on youtube -- both during my apparent "attendance" at university; and for years afterwards.

It would have been entirely possible for me to skip my entire university experience and still have the postgrad level of knowledge I have now: as almost all of it was gained via free lecture courses.

You might say I'm cheating here: the content is still provided by some universities. Sure.

The question remains whether even for the very high end, this process needs years at university; and whether all of them need to repeat it. Let alone how meaningless the process is on the low-end.

I have been offered a PhD in a highly technical area (which I declined) -- and I can assure you nearly everything which landed me in that position had little to do with whatever my university "did". I barely attended.

So in other words:

“We don’t need formal schooling beyond middle school because everyone can learn job skills as a child, and then self-study graduate level material from books and youtube and do independent PhD-level research with no funding, structure, or support.”

This argument strongly reminds me of the guy I met who claimed nobody needs a paid job because they can just scavenge free food from restaurant garbage bins.

I used my case to question how central the university needs to be in any process of skill acquisition: high-end, or low-end.

I wasn't answering the question; I was asking it.

It is still clearly the case the university has a role. I just do not think we have caught up to how well employers can train their employees; how well even highly advanced skills can be acquired; how very very recent advancements (youtube, etc.) can provide a good-quality education; and so on.

In an age where meaningful professional development can be made without the university, there is a serious question to be asked: how many will meaningfully benefit from the university system? (And: how many are meaningfully harmed?).

The answer, in both cases, is surely: some.

This is a very valid and important point. I'm involved in tech training for the company I work for, and during lockdown we've provided a lot of material as videos and self-study documents.

A lot of those have got very good, and we have to ask ourselves what value we add to the learning process. It's still something we're discussing, and it's definitely led us to alter how we think about training (and out of our safe areas!)

You add value by modelling thought process to the learners, as you solve problems which are relevant to them.

Consider: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCs5OvhV9S4 or anything of this kind.

And ask: what is David doing as the narrator (of his own thought process) ?

"it worked for me so it must work for everyone"

I think many people do enjoy university as an environment where like minded people are there to share different ideas. Just as a zoom meeting is no replacement for real meeting, i don't think sitting through MIT youtube channels is the same as actually attending MIT.

> I don't think sitting through MIT youtube channels is the same as actually attending MIT.

There's an increasingly large number of second tier school admins that are making the opposite bet (more online programs, wider admission pool, commuter and all-online certificates). My bet is that in the next 20 years we'll see an even bigger gap between the online crowd and the few in-person institutions that will remain.

> Or whether, for example, the job itself can.

Employers can sponsor degrees, it's still efficient to have specialised educators.

The issue here is that if students fund their own education, they have "skin in the game", and don't rely on employers to gatekeep these roles.

That said, maybe an education tied to an actual job offer would be best; there are too many un-economic degrees given to 18yos - it might be best if the risk in an education was only put on an individual who was already older and somewhat financially secure.

Interesting points, and I concur. The best takeaway from university was some of the friends and connections, in both cases as involved in the same field as I am. Good people to know.

Though, I'm sure the need for good friends and connections could be provided in other ways whilst studying. All things are subject to change and needs will be met if they're important enough.

> This is the education I use all the time to make money.

I'm curious what your degree is in and what you do. My degrees (undergraduate and graduate) were in CS, and I've been employed as a computer programmer my whole life. It's rare to nonexistent that I actually do something for work that I was specifically taught to do by a university professor; there's a pervasive belief here on HN and elsewhere that a CS degree is useless for a programming job (a smaller minority might even suggest that a CS degree disqualifies you from being capable of programming computers professionally). Since I can't say that I learned how to, say, debug a program, or construct a SQL statement, or isolate a performance issue, or diagnose a network connection problem in college, the only counter I have to this viewpoint is that college exposed me to more general problem-solving techniques that are more abstract but broadly useful. Of course, I'll never know if I'd have been just as effective a programmer without ever having set foot in a college or not.

Now we've got "Invest in students" programs that amount to indentures: how long before those are "a success from private finance we must make public for the children" and worse?

When do our societies ever look at the silly shit they're into and say "this shit is silly, let's stop it"? The Civil Rights movement maybe... Usually tho it comes to doubling down on the silly until something else breaks.

> The emperor really has no clothes on: your* degree really was a waste of money....

I mean... my degree is why I can work in the United States and has been (and will continue to be) worth an unbelievable amount of money.

More seriously though, a university education can be very valuable (we can measure the wage premium [1]), but the cost matters. A 4 year degree at in-state state school prices is almost always worth it (provided you graduate). It is difficult to tease out how much of the value is selection effects vs. signaling vs. credentialism vs. networking vs. exposure to challenge/opportunity vs. skills vs. knowledge vs. stepping stone to a professional degree (medicine/law/engineering/nursing). Thinking about my own experience, obviously the credential was a huge deal, but so was my school's co-op program that got me my first software jobs, and there are still classes that shaped the way I think to this day [2].

Where things go off the rails is when people think they can buy their way into the upper classes by getting a degree from a prestigious school (and spend way too much doing so), or people get snookered by for profit colleges or people who don't have a good chance of completing get pressured into going to a four year program and end up with the debt, but not the credential (you mostly don't get partial credit).

You could argue that the wage premium is just class discrimination through credentialism. Maybe it is... but then that's the thing that needs to be dismantled. As an individual if you have a good shot at finishing a 4 year degree and can afford it, you should probably play the game unless you happen to have much better options.

[1] Eg. $640/week median college vs. high school in Q4 2020: https://fredblog.stlouisfed.org/2018/07/is-college-still-wor...

[2] The crash course in epistemology in my Evolutionary Biology class, the complementary rationalism of my Discrete Mathematics Course, the Econ 101 perspective from Introduction to Micro-Economics. Not to mention the tour of data-structures and algorithms from my Computer Science classes so I can do leet code interviews :). Maybe I could have picked the stuff up on my own, but would I have if I was working in a factory back home?

That seems like a naive assessment of an education model that is failing across multiple dimensions of analysis. It saddles many students with crippling debt. It monopolises some of the most productive years of a persons life studying subjects often of minimal practical value to their future careers. It drains public funding and resources.

You say more highly educated people is better as if its a truism, it doesn't seem so clear to me. I don't see why, for example, someone spending their early 20s in an apprenticeship, doing vocational training or in an industry learning on the job is inherently worse for them or society than receiving a higher education.

Just about the only unambiguous positive I can see in university is the chance to grow and learn as a young person in a social setting, freshly independent of parents. But surely there are more efficient approaches that could be employed here.

> studying subjects often of minimal practical value to their future careers

the fact that these subjects offer minimal value should mean that the loan taken to study them should not have been taken. If the student likes the subject, and would be willing to pay, then so be it. But to borrow money, off the back of tax payers, to study a useless subject, is basically folly on the part of the administration approving those loans.

I for one am glad the system is not like this. I don’t not think our society as a whole would be better if the only thing we approved were studies of subjects with lucrative careers. While I do not understand Gender Studies , I appreciate those who are willing to study more about us and the phenomenons we silly little humans do.

I'm studying for another batchelors with the Open University in the UK. It's a good institution and I completed my computing masters with them a few years ago. I'm studing for fun, not for career. I'm so disappointed to see my peers spend most of their time discussing how to get grant funding, which parts of the taught course they can safely skip and how to formally complain about a tutor that has given them poor feedback for poor effort is just depressing.

>> More high educated people is better.

I'd be happy with people being simply 'educated'. Too many people barely graduated high school, lack all kinds of skills, have poor reading/writing abilities.

> Which is a good thing. More high educated people is better

That's a dangerous statement in isolation.

For a country with a median income of $35k, imposing debts worth $200k for degrees with questionable employability and no clear resolution (Can't pay off, can't default) is insanely dangerous.

Education is also not a monolith. Some careers need education, in that gaining skills in the profession requires a degree of instruction or apprenticeship (Medicine, Pure Sciences, Engineering etc). But a large number of them end up being paper pushers or knowledge from a single course or learn everything on their first job. For this second cohort, education can be burden with terrible payoff.

A lot of educational fields are also entirely unemployable. This includes 3 type of professions:

1. Pyramid schemes - where the only real job is in instruction of the next generation.

2. Priest - where they create a dogma that mandates them as essential in the system, but have no use in isolation.

3. Professional disk golfer - where there is only 1 employable position, and about a million wannabes.

As of now, progressive society is pushing people to consider all kinds of professions as equal. However, the equivalency is flawed. The risk/reward ratio of getting educated varies massively across professions. It can vary from a ticket to the upper-middle-class to being entirely useless equivalent to homeopath or hucksterism in terms of unsubstantiated merit.

The university system was never created for everyone to get educated. The concept has existed only post GI-bill and seemed to work in a Boomer-era post scarcity America. (Nothing that worked well in America from 1950-1980 should be taken as an example that can be replicated. It was a special time in history. It would be like trying to be Saudi prince without an oil well in your backyard)

I am strongly in favor of higher education for all. However, it needs to either be fully distanced from the present university mafia or the universities must be compelled to produce economically productive graduates across their various offerings. Universities sell a financial product. It is about time we see their variables-controlled return on investment with th fine grained granularity that we evaluate any other financial product. Lest we get stuck with sub-prime graduates bundled into funds that are considered AAA because there are a large enough number of them in it.

> Universities sell a financial product

No, they do not. Universities offer undergraduate education to school leavers. Both schools and universities bend over backwards to inform prospective students on the fit between degrees and careers. Students pursue degrees with poor career options despite advice and the offerings in the humanities are shrinking.

A feature you overlooked is how bad the graduate employment market is for even the degrees most favoured by employers.

I mean strictly speaking the business model of the very top universities is identical to that of a hedge fund. But I suppose you could argue that doesn't apply to the entire category of institutions.

The quip about Yale being a hedge fund was funny before the financial crisis and in a loose sense some of the wealthiest colleges in the US seem to behave like an educational frosting on an asset-maximising endowment.

If there are any similar institutions in the UK, they are the wealthiest Oxbridge colleges. The students at these places do not so much think their degrees are overpriced.

Yale's former CIO is regarded as an incredibly successful investment manager in general.

That joke was far more true than people think -- the Yale model is now common in institutional investment.

Few oxbridge colleges are anywhere near as wealthy in comparison, and a lot have gigantic white elephants with their grade I listed buildings that are falling apart.

I don't keep up on the exact rankings of the Oxbridge colleges, but there is a huge difference in the wealth of the richest colleges from the average of the rest.

Long before Yale, King's College Cambridge pioneered sophisticated investment management: Keynes turned around the college's assets on the 1930s during the Great Depression to become level with the traditionally wealthiest Cambridge college, Trinity, which had long had vast property assets.


> Universities sell a financial product

> No they do not.

Then why are student loans (in the US) the only loans not dischargable in bankruptcy? If I live like an irresponsable asshole, run up credit card debt right and left, buy a car and who knows what else I can't afford and it finally catches up to me, I can just throw up my hands and say "Ok, you've got me. Bankruptcy." They'll take my fancy stuff, my credit takes a hit, and I can move on with my life with a clean slate.

On the other hand, if I try to improve myself and my community by getting educated to get a good job, go into debt doing so, and then can't repay the debt because the good jobs the university promised aren't actually there, I can NEVER GET RID OF THAT DEBT. It will literally follow me until the day I die. Why? Because Universities are mostly a scam, and the people running them know it. If they had any faith in the education they were providing, they would put their money where their mouth was and let people discharge the loans if needed. Almost everything in the modern era has a "Satisfaction or your money back" guarantee, except education. The reason is that they have no faith in the product they're selling.

>Both schools and universities bend over backwards to inform prospective students on the fit between degrees and careers.

On the contrary, there was a whole industry, the for profit college industry, that existed solely by lying about the viability of the education they provided. Thankfully those have largely collapsed now, but the ordinary college world is hardly any better. As just one example, nearly all of them trumpet the well-worn graphs showing the connection between college education and increasing income, despite those graphs being blatant lies (income goes up among college graduates because most people from rich families go to college, not because college makes you more employable).

There was a time, post WWII, that college was a no-brainer. That time is long past. And it's amazing how much of the population is still hypnotized into believing, and ardently defending, the idea that college is still a good idea for anyone who isn't already rich. Young people's futures are being destroyed. The future of many nations is being destroyed. Huge amounts of public funds are being wasted. And yet people still keep defending the scam.

If you came from a well-off family, went to college, and got a great job related to your degree, great. Understand that most college attendees are not you. Most are middle-class or lower, desperately trying to find some way to avoid working in the service industry for the rest of their lives. And most will fail, with a debt burden that is modest to you, but devastating to them.

> Then why are student loans (in the US) the only loans not dischargable in bankruptcy?

In the US, the loans are overwhelmingly made through the Federal system, not by universities.

Nonsense. https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php... : 34% of the EU population 25-54 years old has completed education to ISCED levels 5-8, and level 5 isn't even university (depends on what you call 'university', but an academic bachelor's is level 6.)

Additionally, in my (relatively) highly educated country (The Netherlands), selection for university starts in primary school, where about 20% is assigned ('given the advice of going to') to the type of secundary education that prepares students for university. So I think it's fair to estimate that a university education for 20% of the population is realistic, and I have no reason to believe this would be significantly (10 percent points higher or lower) elsewhere in the Union.

Perhaps the point was never to educate, but to differentiate. Peeling off the top 10% has it's own value.

The optimal university contains only an admissions office.

And a big bank account for deposits. When you want to hire someone that can show off their $100k+ proof-of-burn, you probably need to pay them well. They’ve demonstrated that being paid in peanuts won’t cut it. They mean business.

Who manages departmental needs for majors that require equipment (STEM) and audits the expenses? Who hires and does a Background check of these auditors and admission officials and professors?

I have often felt this. The skills learned are of little direct value, but the qualification is signalling enough. I mean how much different for a middle management position is I got accepted to Harvard and I graduated from Harvard.

"The Case Against Education" by Bryan Caplan lays out exactly this argument:

"Caplan argues that the primary function of education is not to enhance students' skills but to certify their intelligence, conscientiousness, and conformity—attributes that are valued by employers. He ultimately estimates that approximately 80% of individuals' return to education is the result of signaling, with the remainder due to human capital accumulation."

Both much of the Eurozone and the UK have particularly poor situations for young graduates because of the economically contractive way both handled the last financial crisis.

The UK has compounded the situation by increasing debt for students, structured student load repayment so that payments kick in at an income threshold, and then embarked on the Brexit adventure.

It's a mistake to look at the supply of graduates without looking at the changes in the graduate labour market.

I bet it's even worse in the US.

For a decade+, people have framed "the college experience" as the reason you should attend instead of getting skills online or on your own. Then they promote their great facilities, beautiful campus, state of the art labs, etc.

When THAT is your main value prop and then suddenly take it away, what do you expect will happen?

About 9 years ago I attended a college Q&A session, and I was the only one in the group who was currently at a community college (the rest were HS juniors and seniors).

The community college route was brought up (with my name specifically), and although the presenter brought up the benefits of a 2-year school none of the other students and parents were having it. They were certain that "the college experience" was the only way forward.

I was able to graduate from the CC and transfer to a public 4-year school as a junior. The tuition was minimal (compared to a private university) and paid off without hassle, and if I'd gone the "traditional" college route I don't think I would've been as lucky.

Mine was terrible value for money. Went to a red brick in the UK and studied electrical engineering in the early 90s. My first job on the market was a start from scratch experience. I learned almost nothing of value at university and my personal experience as a hobbyist was far more useful. Turns out 95% of EE work is gluing bits of data sheets together and scratching head over problems where the idealistic mathematical models don’t work out. I found this depressing and ended up slipping out the side into the IT industry which was full of charlatans which were easy to get an advantage over.

My only saving grace was it was free at the time. If I’d had a (larger) pile of debt placed in front of me I’d have done something else with my life.

Discussing value for money on a free degree aside, I'd argue that the value of an EE is immense. I graduated last year studying EEE at a UK red brick uni, had the best time of my life, and learned a good number of skills that have come in handy in the last year having been employed as a professional engineer.

The debt question, at least in the UK, is more academic than anything - I'm currently earning 30k a year (which is already more than I need to live comfortably) and I'm paying £20 a month back on my loan. In 30 odd years the debt will be wiped off and given that you only pay back 6% of income above 27k it's not really like you'd ever notice it. FWIW my friends that went to uni and ended up with non-vocational degrees are earning around the 20k mark if they're working full time so chances are they won't even get close to having to consider their student loans for a good while.

In terms of the specifics I learned on my degree I would have to agree that not much of what was taught is actually helpful in my career but having four years to mature as a person, especially in an atmosphere where you're surrounded by other people who are happy to discuss engineering and related projects, has helped in a way I could never put a price tag on.

That debt is only part of the student finance picture. It’s difficult paying off a credit card, overdraft, commuting, potentially car insurance and rent at the same time. That £20 is a fairly significant amount of cash when you’re in that position. Most people end in that situation and some never escape it.

My daughter is hoping to study medicine next year. That’s going to be interesting on the finance front.

The UK system is more of a graduate tax than a loan unless you're lucky enough to get a seriously well paying job (at which stage you probably don't care).

The repayment terms are not set in stone though, the govt can change it at any time. Also if you want to leave the uk and live somewhere else you are in for a world of hurt.

Are UK salaries really that low? I checked the current exchange rate and £20k is what you can get working a minimum wage job at not even full time hours

A full time job on minimum wage will pay ~18500£. £20K pa is the salary of an entry level not qualified accountant in London (my partner’s first salary some years ago) or of a bar tender. In London, a decent developer may earn in the low 6 digits as an employee. A half decent flat would cost in excess of 2000£ per month, so £20K pa is a very low salary in London.

But if you remove London and 2-3 university towns, what is left of the UK is more similar to an Eastern European country than to Germany or France. Salaries are extremely low, but cost of life is low as well.

As someone that studied computing and electronics I'm surprised you found electrical engineering useless.

I found the vast majority of my computer science courses a waste of time, stuff I could have learned by myself. But the electronics stuff was very useful as I had access to labs and equipment I wouldn't of otherwise had.

I don't think you should expect your university education to prepare you to hit the ground running when you get your first job. It teaches you the foundation so that you can then learn to do your job.

Of course I don't know what you were taught in university nor which field of electrical engineering you went into, maybe you truly got nothing out of it.

I have an MSc in microelectronics. All transferable professional knowledge could have been self learned in about six months from a book. They didn’t teach us how to learn. They didn’t give us any guidance on that front at all in fact. It was just lectures, material (some incorrect!) and a framework in which personal growth was entirely restricted. Tutorials were rushed and incomplete, staff were rarely available for help and a lot of people flounced loudly in the first year over it.

As for incorrectness, to this day I am pissed off that one of the principal lecturers who had precisely zero industry experience shot down an email I sent privately to ask for some material to be corrected. How dare I submit errata! When I landed in industry I took this to a senior design engineer who explained to me in simple terms that the guy was a “jobsworth cunt”.

> I found the vast majority of my computer science courses a waste of time, stuff I could have learned by myself. But the electronics stuff was very useful as I had access to labs and equipment I wouldn't of otherwise had.

As another point of view, my university courses were useful to someone who had jsut tried it out the spring before their freshman year. It introduced me to concepts and put me against (at the time) difficult problems that I could tackle along side my peers. My Data Structure and Alg class was the most useful since it allowed me to restructure the way I way I saw CS as a whole. The things I learn now are entirely structured based on how I learn CS and would not be the same had I learned it on my own.

Just to clarify, I do agree that what they taught is useful to know. Just that the barrier to entry to learn it by yourself is much lower.

To experiment with software concepts "all" you need is a computer and a compiler. Experimenting with electronics required power supplies, signal generators, FPGAs etc. The barrier to entry is much higher in my opinion. I'm grateful I got access to those labs during my study and felt like it was worth the money.

> The things I learn now are entirely structured based on how I learn CS and would not be the same had I learned it on my own

I didn't have that experience. My lecturers were a bit shit in my opinion, and I ended up learning everything from watching recorded lectures from MIT/Stanford/anywhere I could find. Had I not gone to university and watched those lectures I would have ended up with the same knowledge. I felt like the point of my CS modules at university was entirely just to get a piece of paper confirming what I managed to teach myself.

I studied EE in Canada as well in the early 90s. My tuition was less than $2500/year but I had a scholarship that paid for it.

For me it was worth it. I immediately went into programming, and taught myself everything. While being useless for programming, my EE degree gave me a foot in the door and I made the most of it. I started in a bank in IT but was able to move into programming by lying and saying I was a full time programmer. I was doing programming on my own at home so I could legit program (they didn’t have interviews like Microsoft or Google back when I was starting off).

Soon after I moved to Silicon Valley and it’s been pretty good ever since. I’m mostly retired now after 25 years and the pandemic was the thing that convinced me into retirement.

This is my experience too. The best EE I know dropped out of university but knows more about it than anyone I have met. He builds radios, phones and antennas from parts as has since he was a kid in the 1950s. I think the same applies to CS. The best ones have been writing games and code since they were kids. It's something that they love to do.

I'm confused. As someone who dabbled with a basic PCB design. There are a lot of simple circuits that require a lot of theoretical knowledge. Designing the circuit is one thing as you can always copy paste existing designs and modify them. Picking and rating components is another as it requires a complete understanding how your circuit actually works and I was hoping that an EE degree would have helped with that.

I guess there is no need for that and I should just "grind" practical circuits until I understand them.

This is surprising to me because the nature of imperfect components makes EE far more complicated than software development where you do not have to care about choosing a for loop manufactured by Samsung vs Panasonic that is good up to 1000 iterations or that it is polarized so your for loop can only increment, not decrement. Add a hundred components each with their own characteristics and your head will split.

Well realistically you tend to start seeing patterns after a bit. Then you end up redrawing everything as those patterns in your head. Then you develop an intuitive model of what is sensible and what is not.

This is not something they teach you at university. It’s all narrow forward engineering and simple theoretical analysis.

There is a better education in having a pile of broken shit with incorrect service manuals and fixing it when it comes to EE. Test gear is fun because you get it for nothing, fix it and then use it to fix the next thing.

EE drop out here:

An EE degree will absolutely help you pick out components for a circuit.

Computers and digital logic lend themselves towards a sense of everything being deterministic and understandable.

Analog electronics, radio waves, radio wave propagation- I've heard all of those described by EE's (with degrees) as essentially black magic. It isn't black magic obviously, but I think much of those issues end up driving people to experiment with physically building things instead of relying solely on paper. This is just my impression. I think antenna simulation has gotten better recently for example.

Another weird thing about EE, that seems to break what many (including me) expect it to be.. it feels like assumptions and approximations layered on top of one another. Take a simple diode. It has a certain current/voltage curve, but what I was taught about designing with them, is that generally you would use an approximation of the curve. Not the actual curve. Oftentimes, in lab, we would treat the voltage drop across a diode as being independent of current, which is absolutely false! But that is the way that EEs think of diodes, because it works! It's a game of learning what assumptions can be made to simplify analysis.

You might want to try this for learning about electronics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Art_of_Electronics

another good example of how EE's reduce more complicated circuits down to simpler approximations: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Th%C3%A9venin%27s_theorem

> But that is the way that EEs think of diodes, because it works! It's a game of learning what assumptions can be made to simplify analysis.

I think you are generalizing too much here. There's certainly some cases where a simple model of a diode works, but aren't there other cases where a more exact model is beneficial. I find it hard to believe that EE's graduate believing that one model fits all, unless its a pretty poor curriculum (for whatever reason). I'm not saying it is impossible to find a poor EE program, but we should be blaming those institutions instead of electrical engineering in general.

I went to a UK redbrick too but didn't finish.

If I was 18 now I wouldn't bother going, I would admit that I'm lucky in how much my parents and grandparents could teach me.

My sister is going to university in Australia. Despite a successful covid eradication and effectively no cases in her state, her uni tried to make them go virtual all of this year (as well as last year). And what can she do about it? If the professors don’t feel like coming to work she’s shit out of luck. No wonder she and her friends feel like it’s a bad deal.

"If the professors don't feel like coming to work" - As if we have much of a say in it! I would love to be back in the classroom. Online teaching is exhausting but we are forced to do it because of COVID regulations. I think blaming academics for the situation is completely unfair and disingenuous.

It's somewhat interesting, but "what students think" isn't really as interesting as the reality of whether a degree is poor value for money or not. It might be, or might not. I suspect it largely depends on the degree and the institution. Also, just because having a degree is pretty normal right now, doesn't mean it's not good value: maybe you need it just to do averagely and without it you'll struggle a lot in the employment market. I'm not saying this is true, I'm just saying the headline isn't that interesting compared to the actual reality.

Thats actually a great point. There are studies indicating what college degreed people earn vs non degreed.

In my experience (as someone who graduated decades ago), the degree, particularly for liberal arts majors, opened a lot of doors for opportunities that might not have happened without them. But I went to a state school for a cost that seemed high in the 90's but now seems like a huge bargain.

Here's Northeasterns stats on degree what degree earns what (maybe a university isn't the most unbiased resource but..): https://www.northeastern.edu/bachelors-completion/news/avera...

This studies does neglect the huge debt that students accrued because college is crazy expensive now.

> maybe a university isn't the most unbiased resource but..

I'm not sure if anything similar in the US exists, but Stats Canada puts out data on employment by majors in Canada.

[1] shows that graduates of the humanities and social sciences have the highest rate of underemployment whereas graduates of nursing, engineering, CS, and education programs have the lowest rate of underemployment.

[2] performs a comparison of workers from 1991 to 2011 and concludes that underemployment rates (called overqualification here) have not changed much. Field of study is broken out for the 2011 group, however, the 1991 data isn't broken out.

[3] Breaks out salary for graduates of Canadian majors (118 fields of study for men, 123 fields of study for women) 5 years after graduation prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, it does not break this down by university, and it seems to lump computer science in with math. Surveys completed in BC [4] show that for self-reported earnings there is a difference in earnings for the same major across different universities. It also treats math and computer science separately and in some cases, CS majors earn 2x math majors two years after graduating.

[1] https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/as-sa/98...

[2] https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/75-006-x/2014001/article...

[3] https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11-626-x/11-626-x2020018...

[4] https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/data/statistics/people-po...

I have a community college diploma and a university degree. I can say that the 3 years I spend in community college learning to code; learning systems, design patterns, various languages, etc... it has served me far better than the knowledge I earned at university.

Community college is a second class citizen and it's hard to convince people of its merits to society.

I'm strongly of the opinion that reforms to higher education should start with strengthening the community college and public tech school systems, and push their best practices upward. The CC in my region, and the regional state colleges, are jewels. Everybody at the CC is committed to teaching. They are committed to getting people in and keeping them in, not just to meet some metric, but actually working with each student one on one. And the teachers at our CC are unionized, so there's actually a fair amount of competition for the jobs that open up.

The national news media should declare a two year moratorium on reporting about the "elite" colleges, and spend that time investigating the community and regional college systems.

Just finished my last semester at a CC and I'm transferring to a UC this Fall. I think that CCs will never really be able to shake off their stigma because of the fact that they are an entry point for EVERYONE. Telling someone you go to a CC could mean anything from "I'm a lazy fuck up" to "I'm a bright student who wants to avoid student loans". I feel like a lot of CC students just grit their teeth and accept that they may be looked down upon until they transfer and "prove themselves" so to speak. There's really no getting around this without changing the very nature of CCs' inclusiveness.

> I feel like a lot of CC students just grit their teeth and accept that they may be looked down upon until they transfer and "prove themselves" so to speak.

It's hard to do anything about it, as you pointed out, since the best are those who transfer out.

It's also the most affordable way to start a 4 year degree program. Many US states have guaranteed community college transfer programs into large, well-regarded state universities for engineering, business, etc.

I'm sure that around half of UK university lecturers, admins, and senior management also believe the degree is poor value for money.

UK universities mostly exist to print money at the moment...

For many students, university is a 3-4 year government funded (student "loan") binge.

I spent four years on a government-funded binge at university, and am now paying my taxes like a dutiful citizen. IMO anyone who wants to deny young adults the opportunity to make a load of friends and go off the rails before they mature a little and start contributing to society has forgotten what it's like to be an 18 year old!

This is not aimed at you; you just happened to be the comment that crystallize this thought I’ve been having for awhile.

I think this is one of the major problems with everything nowadays. Everything is so bloated and removed from its original purpose.

If we want a space for young adults to let loose and party before having to conform to adulthood, then let’s build that separate from education so my tuition isn’t paying for the frat parties that I don’t go to.

If we want diversity and inclusion, then let that be a separate nonprofit that works with schools so that my tuition isn’t paying for my college to have more administrators than professors.

Furthermore, college sports: “SHAPIRO: The principles that underlay the NCAA's philosophy seem like reasonable principles. Students should be amateurs. They should be college students. They should not be paid millions of dollars. But so many of the stories you tell seem like distortions of those reasonable principles, like people are just divorced from reality or out to get a student for no good reason. Did you get a sense of what is actually going on (laughter) in people's heads in all of these stories that you retell?

NOCERA: I think I do have a pretty good sense of it. Amateurism, which is the core principle of the NCAA, may have started out as a good idea, but with so much money now flowing into college sports, it's become a sham. And it's become kind of an excuse not to pay the labor force who are brining in the billions of dollars that are enriching everybody else. The NCAA itself is a kind of bureaucratic, rules-oriented organization…” (https://www.npr.org/2016/02/15/466848768/indentured-explores...)

“The solution in my opinion is to do away with college athletic scholarships and preferred admission for athletes. Let school's field their sports teams from their normal student bodies and ensure that those teams are truly amateur and the participants really are "student-athletes". Let the NBA and the NFL field their own semi-professional minor leagues like baseball does.” (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27581613)

Admittedly, I am bitter about my college experience and probably wouldn’t have such a harsh opinion if it had been better. Like the other comments here mentioned, I found a CS degree to be a sham and I learned more and better on my own than I ever did listening to professors all of whom were worse at teaching than YouTube (especially considering that high quality channels like 3Blue1Brown exist) and some of whom can’t actually speak or write English well. A CS degree didn’t help me get a job but starting a hardware club did which is where my gripe comes from. There was never funding for clubs (that actually get students doing things they would do at their future job) or for professors to do research projects that students (like me) get to help with and build job experience. But somehow the activities and recreations always got an expansion.

Government funded? Maybe in 1996.

I'm talking about what we refer to as "Student Loans" https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/student-loans-co...

"We are a non-profit making government-owned organisation that administers loans and grants to students in colleges and universities in the UK."

In many cases, it's never paid back in full, and the students don't ever need to worry about it.

From the perspective of many students, it's free money.

The deal is it's never paid back provided you stay poor (< £20k) for your whole life. Quite a high cost for a few years of drinking.

It's a sweet deal for employers to create a natural disincentive for people to ask for raises though, while keeping the outward appearance of fairness.

It's only a disincentive to ask for a raise if you don't know what it means. You only pay back student loans based on the percentage of money you earn above a certain amount.

If you earn £21,000 and the threshold is £20,000, you only pay back a portion of £1,000, not all of the £21,000.

the £1k gets turned into ~£700.

Nobody says no to an extra £700 if offered on a plate but the lower the % you get of a raise the less motivated you are to chase it.

£910 - you pay 9% over the threshold.

In my experience, student loan repayments are, until you are way above the threshold, a relatively minor number on your paycheques; dwarfed by income tax, national insurance, and pension contributions.

Why would this disincentivise asking for a raise?

The interest rates they charge on these loans and their mission statement suggest two very different motives. Mine is approaching car loan interest territory.

Nope - for many fields you actually get access to top-notch minds on the cheap in comparison to what they would be paid in the private sector. This is not to say I think the current fees based system is the way it should be financed.

That skilled labour is part of the cost paid by students, not value gained by them.

It seems your opinion puts you in the other half then.

Degrees should be like elementary school. Not something “that you need for a job” but something “our society needs to be better and make better things”. Another tool that we can use to build a better and smarter future.

Agreed -- education is about the knowledge transfer from one generation to the next not externalizing the cost of job training to universities.

> Degrees should be like elementary school. Not something “that you need for a job” but something “our society needs to be better and make better things”.

Its implicit in the ideology of capitalism that the former is equivalent to the latter.

IMO not surprising.

A large part of the value of a degree is, I believe;

* fleeing the "nest" and exploring your adult persona in a fresh environment

* Socialising and building social capital

* Networking

Naturally, few of these things are possible in a pandemic.

A university degree in the UK isn't even a measure of aptitude, it's a measure of patience or ability to slog through shit.

My sister is about as bright as a black hole and managed to get a masters degree in Law.

My friends wife is also as dense as a collapsed star and was on-track to get a PhD, until she dropped out.

These are not measures of intelligence, knowledge or aptitude, just ability to recite in rote and vomit the words of a book or professor back at the institution, and it puts you in debt to do it.

As an employer a degree tells me nearly nothing.

And yes; some jobs require a degree, but the people that filter through are thick as shit so it's not a measure of anything. Just an institutionalised cost of entry.

(and I will be downvoted, by people defensive of their degree/debt, likely due to a sunk cost fallacy, but I have a degree and I'm thick as shit too so I'm speaking for myself also)

In my experience it very much depends on the institution.

I did my undergrad at one of the Oxbridge colleges, and it was very clear you could fail if you either weren't clever enough or didn't put in sufficient effort. If you turned up without having completed the work they just sent you straight back home with a black mark that counted against you when you failed the exams and wanted another go. Exam questions basically only awarded 33% of the marks for "bookwork" and the rest required you to demonstrate an actual mastery of the topic.

My grad school was at a Russel group school (the tier just below Oxbridge), and it was clear that the undergrads there could just coast as long as they handed something in. If they turned up to a tutorial without having done the homework there were very few consequences. If you failed the exams there was an automatic retest in the summer. If you could regurgitate your text book you would probably get a 2:1.

That may be so, but those very same abilities are exactly what is needed for success in most jobs.

I really object to thinking about education as 'value for money' only. That's not to say that education in some countries is outrageously expensive (it is) or that student loans are terrible burden (it is). But the real issue is that modern education is increasingly shoddy, regardless to how much you pay for it.

Still, I think it's important to have formal education, because most young people aren't self-organized enough to learn on their own. Also, universities are important social institutions (yeah, sounds ironic in 2021) where social skills and connections obtained can dramatically influence your life decades after the education is finished.

As long as it costs money, it's about value for money. If you're willing to give it to me for free, great, then we can kick back and speculate on how it improves me as a person (consider, however, there are MANY things in this world that improve people, and a lot of them don't cost tens of thousands of dollars at the low end.)

Until then, it's about value for money.

Even if the students don't pay for it, the government (or whoever else pays) can still consider it from their perspective and value system.

Well, overpriced anything makes a terrible investment - housing, stock market, art, land, etc. Education is no exception.

It’s gone from





in my lifetime. The education hasn’t improved. Nor has the job prospects. Outside about three outstanding universities, and a few with good specialties, the rest are average at best.

I wonder if this includes the Scottish students who get it for free?

Scottish students still have to pay sometimes very high accommodation fees, and this is usually done through a loan.

Example: I studied in Edinburgh from 2008–2012, but was from Wales. I had to pay around £1800 per year tuition fees, but accommodation at its cheapest worked out at £300 per month, without taking into account costs like light and heat.

I have a student loan of about £30k, of which about £9k was tuition fees.

Free tuition would have saved me between a quarter and a third of the cost of going to university.

Now fees are greater than £9k per year, which many believe is absurd. Based on my example, assuming no inflation on living costs, I would have borrowings of £84k without even taking into account interest – all of which I would almost certainly never repay.

£300 a month for a student flat isn't really all that different to the rest of the UK - I lived in student accommodation in Manchester for four years and paid between £350 and £420 a month plus bills for houses in varying states of decay, with bills maybe being an extra £100 on top of that.

Looks like it does: “Students from Scotland are again the most positive, but there has been a statistically significant (6%) fall this year.”[1]

However fees are only paid by the government if a Scottish student (including those from elsewhere the EU, at least before Brexit) studies in Scotland; not if they study elsewhere in the UK.

[1] https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/student-academic-...

Given the people paying for it don't even get a degree out of the deal, it probably depends how the question is framed.

There's still a time investment.

I think that’s a reasonable view. It’s tripled in cost and no way has a degree tripled in value.

You can’t create a market for something and provide no additional value.

Imagine how this would change if they were paying $100k+ for their degree in the USA.

The article says some universities - taking into account living costs - are £20,000 a year, so yes a four year course would be above $100k. Given that UK salaries are so much lower than the US (the average graduate salary is £24k vs $50k in the US), I'd say UK degrees are worse value than the US.

US university can easily surpass $100k in tuition alone.

My alma mater, UVA, currently estimates the total cost of attendance for in-state (subsidized by state government) at $34k/year (tuition, room-board, other expenses). For out-of-state students, that number is $68k/year. And this is a state university, not a private institution.

As a counter example, you can get a MSCS degree from Georgia Tech for under 10,000 dollars (total cost). GT is a top 10 CS program. Anyone in the world may apply. I expect more of this in the near future from other top programs.

Online, Cheap and Elite: https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/article/2018...

Georgia Tech's OMSCS degree requires an undergrad degree (CS, math, comp eng, or EE preferred) for admissions. It even states "work experience will not take the place of an undergraduate degree."[1]

Coursera offers one online BS in computer science with the University of London [2] costing £11,229 - £16,790 Depending upon geographic location.

Edx offers microbachelors degrees, but doesn't seem to yet offer a BS in CS.

Oregon State Uni offers an online BS in CS for $69,480 USD in tuition (180 credits * $386/credit).

To your point, it can certainly be delivered relatively cheaply online, but there doesn't seem to be an incentive to do so. If we use GT as the benchmark, then 10k / 2 years should mean that a 4 year degree can be offered for 20k / 4 years.

It seems delivering MS programs more cheaply is not the biggest barrier in US higher education. It seems a bigger impact would be to deliver the BS level education more cost effectively.

[1] https://omscs.gatech.edu/program-info/admission-criteria

[2] https://www.coursera.org/degrees/bachelor-of-science-compute...

[3] https://ecampus.oregonstate.edu/online-degrees/undergraduate...

Question - is this students who are paying for it now and at school now or is this students who look back ten years afterwards? Tough to see current value from a lifelong investment. Not for or against - just commenting on the bias of the lens of which it is viewed.

I'm not surprised. After I graduated from uni with a computer science degree it took me 7 years just to get to zero, by which time I was a top 30% earner. Now I'm a top 10% earner and I still won't have paid off my loan for another 3 years. I can't imagine what it's like for someone with a pointless degree earning a more average salary. It's basically just a higher tax because you spend a few years messing around between school and getting your first job.

not a student and I think it's poor value

One of the overlooked factors of Tertiary Education is housing costs, and taxes.

Ok, I make 30% more with my degree, but all of that is swallowed up by increased rent/mortgage costs (since White collar jobs are usually restricted to a few expensive cities), and progressively higher taxes.

In the UK this would not be so surprising. the college wage premium is probably a lot lower there than in the US and wages lower overall . fewer of those good tech , legal, consulting , finance, or ngo jobs or they don't pay as much compared to the US.

I think university degree is sort of "Does nothing unless it's a really good school but you lose a LOT by not having one" thing. Similar things include your outlook, you inheritance, etc.

Spain is full of people with masters working in super markets or other unskilled labour. It a society that took the education is prosperity to the natural conclusion meaning everyone is highly educated and underemployed, trying to pass the bureaucracy exams to get some dead end job in the public service or unemployed and living with their parents.

We need to teach people self-reliance, critical thought, economic literacy and common business sense and support entrepreneurship at the most basic level financially and educationally. Invest in providing professional education (electrician, plumber, mechanics etc.) and provide an aggressive intern plan like what Germany does for their small and medium businesses.

Why is the economy so bad?

Structural problems which never gets addressed properly. We stand at 15%+ unemployment as of today. Tourism is a big industry causing massive swings as its seasonal. There is a big underground economy that is I remember being in the 20-25% range of GDP.

> There is a big underground economy that is I remember being in the 20-25% range of GDP.

Too much bureaucracy?

I thought UK university education was extremely cheap or free.

I shudder to imagine what they would think about paying hundreds of thousands for a US education...

You probably confused it with continental europe - there education in public universities in many countries still is extremely cheap or free.

UK on other hand is like light version of US.

My degree has nothing to do with my career. I value the experience and learned a lot, but don't think it was good value for money.

1. More and more people are getting degrees, making them less of a differentiator.

2. Knowledge is more and more readily available and is not limited to degree holders.

3. Politics is infecting universities with propaganda.

4. Universities are coming up with useless degrees in order to attract students.

5. Universities focus too much on degrees and grades and not enough on knowledge.

A very good summary. I think it's important to factor in the comment from someone else around here that distinguishes between a degree and a university education. I think there's a market for a three-year back-to-basics course where you are doing rigorous self-study and small-group tutorials intensively for the whole time. Possibly Oxford and Cambridge still do that to some extent? Certainly it addresses all five of your points, including the one about propaganda (too much free time).

I'd add: 6. Universities are focused on delivering what students (think they) want, not on delivering a good education.

I've seen pretty blatant cheating pushed under the rug as it was more effort to pursue it than the course leader could be bothered with (after all these were paying customers).

What does "think" mean? A belief? Did each one sit-down and estimate future earnings with, without, and the opportunity costs of time and money?

If the median student thinks it break-even, is it perfectly priced?

One would hope that most students (certainly the median one) think of it as value-generative for them, and for only the students seeing the least value as break-even (otherwise one shouldn't go to uni)

If the median student believes the net value is zero, then most students think the net value is non-negative.

Not if there's an even number of students and the two students nearest to the median have distinct value judgements.

Depends on the degree and the university.

Either way, the debt is hanging on their heads (with interest) and it is a complete scam. (Last year definitely showed just that)

It is important to note that "debt" is perhaps a misleading term when considering student loans in the UK. The money must be repaid as a percentage of earnings (9% of everything earned above £27,295, so if you don't earn above £27,295 you don't pay anything), and after 30 years any remaining debt is wiped. In this way the "debt" is much more equivalent to a tax than a loan.

Money Saving Expert have a very good guide that details this further [1].

[1] https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/students/student-loans-tui...

I don't think it's a simple as MSE makes out

* debt incurs interest at rates way above what someone could get a personal loan for

* it still affects people's ability to borrow when it comes to house buying etc

* if your parents are rich enough to pay your fees then you don't pay the tax

* if you earn enough to pay of the debt quickly they you'll pay less than someone with a middling income who earns enough to pay a lot but not clear the debt

Just make a proper graduate tax instead is my view

100% agree on just making it a tax at this point. We're basically at a point where it is a tax, except: 1. The very rich can stop paying it, and 2. People who end up wanting to change degrees too late down the line end up falling through the cracks and aren't given the option to try another degree (again, unless they're very rich)

Exactly. It is still a scam. Even worse if you're doing a degree that has little to no job prospects. For example, 'Why you should not do a PhD in History.' [0]

I do not blame the students of this year to dispute about paying for the university fees when they are going to either retake because their exams were cancelled (due to COVID) or the quality of the course was not good enough and is not worth it.

COVID just made it even glaringly obvious and worse.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27580605

uk student debt isnt real debt. it functions more as a tax where the middle class pay more overall than the poor or the rich.

the loan has a very low interest rate, you wont ever get another loan like this, and if you never earn above a certain limit you never have to pay it. its a very good thing. the degree costing 9k however is bullshit

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