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Tuesday, 10 July, 2001, 13:14 GMT 14:14 UK
What difference does a degree make?

As Julio Iglesias finally completes his law degree, we ask what a difference that piece of paper can make?

Julio Iglesias, the millionaire crooner, has succumbed to parental pressure and gone back to university 35 years after he quit to pursue a singing career.

Julio Iglesias and blondes
How to measure success for Julio Iglesias?
It seems that international stardom and shifting 267m records are just not enough to impress Julio Iglesias senior, who urged his drop-out son to make something of his life, to go back and finish his final law exam.

But despite passing his verbal exam at Madrid's Complutense University with an "excellent" in June, the singer isn't contemplating a career change. "I am not about to start working as a lawyer now," he has said.

So why bother? It's generally considered that potential employers look favourably on graduates.

But what difference does a degree actually make, in terms of the knowledge and skills acquired? And if you don't have a degree, will that hold you back or put you at a disadvantage?

Advantages of having a degree: Disadvantages of not having a degree:
It will probably get you a better job. Graduates are also half as likely to be unemployed as those without a degree. A degree is no prerequisite to selling ballads to swooning housefrau. But A-levels are rarely taken seriously and many employers now demand a degree for relatively routine jobs.
And it may get you more money - graduates can command salaries up to 40% more than those without higher education. Careers once learned on-the-job are increasingly study-orientated. Witness the rise of degrees in subjects such as pig farming enterprise and knitwear.
It both broadens your choices and provides a fallback. Oscar-nominated child star Haley Joel Osment looks set to follow Jodie Foster's lead, and put his film career on hold when it's time to go to college. You may play football like a demon or sing like an angel, but academic attainment is still seen as a fundamental measure of success. A leading educationalist has urged celebrity couple Posh and Becks to get a few qualifications to show how valuable they are.
But is education suffering as courses become employment-driven? Earlier this year, a Mori survey of more than 1,000 students found four out of 10 believed that their courses did not challenge them intellectually. There's a danger of being left behind, as we're living in a culture of increasing "mass elite" education. A-level pass rates rose for the 18th year running, and an extra 40,000 university places have been created this year.

Is higher education the be-all and end-all?

Victoria and David Beckham with son Brooklyn
Back to school for Posh and Becks?
Entrepreneur Richard Branson became a multi-millionaire, even though he left school at 16 with four O-levels and one A-level.

Fashion guru Paul Smith left school in Nottingham after failing every exam he took. And top television chef Delia Smith, who has an honorary degree, failed her 11-plus exam.

Your comments:

When I was 16, a programmer gave a careers talk at my school. He said, "Miss out the A-levels and degree. Get a job in IT and drive a flash car by the time you are 20". I didn't take his advice but when I did eventually work in IT, I spent many years wishing I had got a head start. Now I'm in my mid 40s and the jobs are harder to find, I am grateful for the little extra credibility my [philosophy] degree gives me.
Nik Morrell, UK

I think a degree can help you "jump the queue" in the career ladder but if you have the personality and the skills to be at the top, it's probably a waste of time. And I think that a PhD is waste of space unless you are very passionate about the suject that you are studing and would like to work in the same field after graduation.
Elaine, UK, now working in Vienna

Not having a degree has not caused me any difficulties with gaining a job. However, I am now in my 30s and younger people will find that they may 'need' a degree just to put them on a level footing - a situation caused by and perpetuated by HR departments who look down their noses at good people who have not obtained a degree.

Having a degree is obviously beneficial from a career perspective, but from a personal perspective they are only really useful if they force a person to cultivate their critical capacity, and to seek out the bigger picture. Humanity and social science degrees appear to be getting better at this, but I am more doubtful in regards to the sciences.
James MacLaren, UK

With respect to James MacLaren's opinion, in my experience studying for a science degree will develop critical thinking capacity and provide a strong background in logic and mathematics which are useful in many industries.
Chris Boyne, UK

Six years after completing my degree (LLB) I am working in a totally unrelated field, where the direct knowledge I learned at university rarely enters my working life. I strongly believe I would not be as successful had I not spent three years of social and academic growth obtaining those three little letters.
Megan, UK

I studied at one of the best universities in the country to achieve a first in modern languages. This has landed me the job of a lifetime in data entry (detect the irony?) where I am underpaid and under-valued and made to feel like a total cretin. The cretins are the employers who think they can get something for nothing without causing resentment, depression and bitterness amongst the ambitious young graduates they take on.
Hannish, UK

I do not see a degree as a golden key which opens doors to better careers, but as a personal challenge, life experience and enjoyable event it simply unmissable.
Stephen Beat, UK

What difference has higher education - or a lack of it - made in your life? Let us know using the form below, or if you prefer to use your own e-mail program, send them to

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04 Apr 01 | Education
Jobs boom for graduates
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