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University challenge



Yesterday’s announcement that the Government is to allow Universities to charge students up to £9000 per year in tuition fees should send a shiver down the spine of anyone who cares about raising standards within the HR profession.  The implications may not be seen immediately but it seems clear to me that this is storing up a whole load of issues for forthcoming years.

First of all, ALL students will be looking to see the value that they will get from a course.  The commoditisation of education changes the way in which we look at that value.  They are already starting to look at the educational provision they are receiving more critically and this has seen complaints rise by more than a third in the last two years. A trend we can only expect to increase.

You don’t need to study an HR degree to work in HR (in fact I would argue you shouldn’t) but many do and what will their experience be?  They won’t be educated by the top professionals in their field. That is a fact.  Because the top professionals tend to be working in industry where they can attract higher salaries.  The average lecturer salary is between £30k and £40k which is equivalent to that of an HR Officer working in London.  I studied my postgraduate at a CIPD centre of excellence.   In retrospect I can tell you neither the lecturing nor the majority of lecturers were excellent.

Sure some of the additional tuition fee revenues could be put towards attracting top talent into education. But do you really think it will? No, me neither.

That brings us on to the other courses that students might study. But why would they then enter HR? If you’ve paid £27,000 plus living costs for a degree in Economics, or Psychology or even Business Studies would you choose a career in HR or are you more minded towards one of the top paying graduate sectors (investment banking, legal, consulting, actuarial, IT or sales)? Well I certainly don’t think the top talent is going to be heading our way.

 So where does this all leave us? First I should say I don’t think there is any need to panic.  We’re starting at a low-level so in most cases things can only get better. But I do think we need to start planning now. The big big companies will still be able to offer graduate schemes that pay more than enough to attract the top talent, but for the remainder of us we need to start to think differently.

  • Do we need to start offering apprenticeships? Taking people directly from education at 18 and providing them with the skills they need without the debt?
  • Do we need to get together as organisations and utilise our talents to train people outside of the University system, accepting that a degree is no longer a necessary requirement?
  • Do we need to con-fund University courses and offer to lecture to ensure that we maintain high standards?
  • Do we need to significantly alter our salary structures to attract the new breed of heavily indebted, heavily picky students?


  • Do we bury our head in the sand, talk a good talk and hope for the best?
4 Comments leave one →
  1. 11/04/2010 16:54

    This is a topic close to my heart and despite the picture often painted of students as partying their way through University, the young people I have come across work hard to get their qualifications and degrees.

    Those with academic excellence often choose subjects such as law, medicine and accounting because they are expecting a good return on the money they are spending on their degrees. I must admit I haven’t seen HR up there with these topics which is a real shame as HR and L&D can offer a rewarding and diverse career.

    I don’t know if it’s because I work in this field but it seems to me that HR spends too much time debating what it should be doing and how it can raise its influence when other professions seem to be getting on and doing it. Creating a better ‘HR brand’ I think would go a long way in helping to recruit and retain talented graduates.

  2. 11/08/2010 11:24

    @Claire Walsh – Thanks for taking the time to comment Claire. I guess my point is, should we actually be trying to comete with Law? Or instead do we think more strategically about future skills needs and resourcing requirements and do something outside the box. Kinda like we should be doing in our own companies…..

  3. 11/08/2010 16:33

    Maybe we lump HR roles together too much an should consider different development paths for different aspects? For example a comps and benefits role will be linked to numerical and analytical competencies whereas a L&D facilitator requires a different skill set.

    I agree that not all HR roles require a degree and other vocational options should be considered.


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