Is higher education worth the investment?

With so many choices and student numbers multiplying, people are looking for other ways to stand out

The 60-million-dollar question at the moment is about higher education and whether a degree qualification is really necessary. As universities continue to increase their fees and students take on more and more debt, many people are questioning whether it's all worth it.

There's no doubt that a higher education qualification can broaden your horizons and increase earning potential. Despite a small hiccup in 2008, the economy has tended to favour people with a degree for over 30 years, with certain industries treating graduates particularly well. For example, a 2011 report¹ by Graduate Careers Australia showed that IT graduates were some of the best paid in Australia, with an average salary of $75,000. But it's not the only option.

In the past, many young people found themselves at university to get a degree for no better reason than that it was "the thing to do". But today, with so many choices and student numbers multiplying, people are looking for other ways to stand out.

Institutions like TAFE NSW offer a range of vocational courses that provide practical, on-the-job training and apprenticeships – often a much better option for people looking for jobs in industries like plumbing, electrical engineering and hairdressing.

This trend is becoming particularly obvious in Europe, where economies have been harder hit by the GFC and debt crises than here in Australia. Increasing numbers of students in Europe and the UK are opting to take their chances of landing a job without a degree, rather than finding themselves a graduate with poor job prospects in a tough economic climate, thousands of dollars in debt because of university fees. In Italy in particular, less than 60 per cent of students² who finished high school in the last year have enrolled in an Italian university, the lowest number in 30 years.

But different people and different industries require different qualifications, and TAFE NSW offers a range of higher education choices in addition to the more traditional vocational qualifications.

And where these degrees stand out are their industry relevance. Programs are developed with industry consultation to ensure they are as current as possible and focus on practical skills rather than abstract concepts.

Students are also given the opportunity to practise skills and demonstrate ability in workplace placements, as well as enjoying smaller class sizes and an easy progression from other TAFE courses.