There’s much to be said for what the university experience can give a person: academic rigour, a broader view of the world, a whole new set of experiences outside the family home. But not, apparently, life satisfaction and happiness.
That’s according to a new set of survey results from the Office For Students which show that university graduates rated their life satisfaction and happiness less highly than the general population. Graduates were also more likely to suffer from social anxiety than the general population.
The survey was conducted on graduates at all levels of higher education who graduated in the 2017/2018 year group, in the 15 months after they’d left university. They were asked to rate, from 0 to 10, their overall life satisfaction, the extent to which they felt the things they do in life are worthwhile, how happy they felt yesterday, and how anxious they felt yesterday.
The results make for grim reading. Less than a quarter of full-time undergraduates reported very high life satisfaction and less than a third reported very high happiness. The numbers slightly improve for those who went onto postgraduate study, but not by much.
Those who studied education and teaching; medicine, dentistry and veterinary sciences; and nursing, allied health and psychology had the highest percentages scoring highly in life satisfaction, feelings of life being worthwhile and happiness (though business and management and design, creative and performing arts graduates also scored highly for happiness).
The results show that these negative outcomes tend to afflict younger graduates more than older ones. This suggests that some of this might be put down to standard generational anxiety as graduates first enter the job market and begin to navigate the adult world.
But there are other factors at work here too. Government data from earlier this year suggests that only 65.6pc of undergraduates went into high-skilled work (work which presumably requires a degree) in 2019, representing a slight increase on 2018, but a much smaller percentage increase than the non-graduates who got into high-skilled work.
The same data shows that the disparity in annual median salaries between graduates and non-graduates has shrunk, with median graduate salaries having essentially plateaued and actually decreased in real terms due to inflation.
All this despite the number of students attending university continuing to creep up; hitting 50.2pc in 2019.
Unfortunately, with degree certificates now so common, having one makes graduates stand out less than ever in a difficult jobs market leading to disappointment and disillusion, all while facing an ever-mounting pile of debt which most will never pay off.
“I don’t exactly regret going to university, I just didn’t find it beneficial,” says Martina Gordeen, 22, who graduated from Birmingham City University this summer with a degree in Media and Communications.