Monday May 20th 2024

To Go or Not To Go?


Young people today are facing a financial situation that could in many ways be likened to ‘The Perfect Storm’. It would seem that the elements are combining to create conditions that would sink any hope that many of today’s school leavers may have of achieving financial independence during their lifetime.

The difficulty in getting a ‘first time buyer’ mortgage, coupled with the current cost of houses, is a major problem on its own.  But the collapse of ‘defined benefit’ occupational pensions and the probability of living well into advanced old age is an even more serious issue.  Although someone in their early twenties is going to have great difficulty in taking on board the need to start making provision for retirement while still hardly out of their teens, they simply can’t defer it if they wish to enjoy a reasonable lifestyle in their later years.

This brings into sharp focus the latest problem they are confronted with…repaying their University tuition fees and student loans.

The dilemma as to whether or not to continue education beyond A- level exams has never been more acute.

Obviously those students who have shown real academic aptitude, up to the time they are facing this critical decision, and who have a specific objective of entering one of the professions such as medicine, law, science, engineering etc. should bite the bullet. Their ultimate earning potential will hopefully enable them to eventually repay their debts and become solvent.

However it is painfully apparent that many current University entrants may graduate into the world of work already owing as much as £30,000!   

It’s time for us as a society to acknowledge the stupidity of encouraging the pursuit of higher education for all, and recognise that we have to be more selective in determining who will really benefit.

Furthermore, companies have got to stop insisting on degrees (many of which have limited application in the real world) when recruiting new employees.

Instead they need to incorporate a programme of continuing training, apprenticeships and coaching in skills that have real relevance in today’s marketplace.

We all know that a very high proportion of the most successful wealth creators in the UK never went to University, and it’s not difficult to encounter plenty of ‘educated derelicts’.

If you think I’m taking a swipe at further education here you would be very much mistaken. Far from it.  But there is no requirement to squander three or four valuable years and rack up a lot of debt in learning what you could easily learn in other ways.  And there is so much to learn that isn’t taught at University which would prove to be far more valuable in the long term.

The lure of moving away from home at 18 with the prospect of  spending three or four years in the company of people the same age, in an environment conducive to partying and having fun, is naturally going to be very seductive.  But, unless there is serious intent to get a very good and valuable degree, the price is now far too high.

It should be said that University is not all about binge drinking and playing around. There’s the opportunity to expand the mind and learn academic skills and build knowledge. It doesn’t have to be all about preparing for a future career. Education is valuable as an end in itself. It is without doubt an investment, but is now a very expensive one.  University is a great way to spend 3-4 years, if you can afford it.

But how reckless might it be to begin working life with a massive debt resulting from three years which will have little or no impact on what you will eventually earn?

If you are a potential student why not get a head start and begin accumulating some money instead?   By the time you are 22 you could easily then be more than £40,000 ahead of your ex school friends!   Believe me; it will take them a long time to catch you up, if they ever do.

Most of the students who are so keen to leave home and enjoy their new found independence will be forced to forfeit it again for many years when they have no alternative other than to move back in with mum and dad. 

Much as my wife and I enjoy our kids coming to stay with us for a few days at a time, I don’t think we would be too thrilled to have them back home on a permanent basis.

Clearly we have to change this ridiculous culture where some kind of stigma seems to attach to those who do not go to University.  The pressure to continue in full time education until the age of 22 or more has to be thoroughly reappraised.   It seems that today there is simply an expectation of having our kids go to University without any really valid reason as to why. Is it simply a case of following the crowd?

We already have a situation where so many graduates with mediocre or unsuitable degrees are finding it difficult to find employment.  Between government, educationists and many parents, there is a lot of culpability for pushing our kids in the wrong direction.

Even parents who have the means to fund their children through University (which in total could amount to more than £40K for each child) should consider the alternative strategy of investing that money in other ways, to assist giving their offspring a more practical start to adult life.

When I was a young man I was quite disappointed that National Service was no longer compulsory as I’d heard great stories from many of my older friends of the great time they had.  However I just had to shrug my shoulders and get over it.  Of course I consoled myself with the knowledge that the experience would have been nowhere near as good as they recounted! So a similar situation now occurs where it may be necessary for many young people have to cope with the disappointment of missing out on a few years of whatever goes on at Uni. 

The reality is that for most young adults it will be just as easy to achieve success in life without a degree as it would be with one.  I can say that without equivocation as I’ve spent a great deal of my life mixing with successful people.  Some of whom I personally trained.

What makes the difference is attitude, focus, enthusiasm and a good work ethic.  I value those qualities far more than a formal education. 

There are some employers who readily accept the responsibility to continue the training and development of their employees. More companies have to follow suit and implement formal and ongoing career development programmes.  Having a degree in English or History for example, doesn’t equip a new graduate for most jobs, so on the job learning is as important for graduates as it is for non-graduates.

The employer may argue that having a degree is some kind of evidence of the intelligence level of a job applicant, but some good and perceptive interviewing would reveal the same thing, probably more accurately.  An ability to learn and pass exams is not a reliable indicator of common sense or inter-personal skills….two very valuable qualities that are regrettably in short supply.

Additionally, if employers are convinced that having a degree is really that essential, they can sponsor employees to take a degree course part time by giving time off each week and contributing to the fees.

Everyone is aware of the difficulty in getting on the housing ladder, but what perhaps is less understood are the ramifications of the disappearance of defined benefit occupational pension schemes.  It’s hardly likely that this has ever been of much interest to a 22 year old but the severity of the problem of income in retirement cannot be overstated!

Suffice it to say though it is imperative that making provision for retirement, as ridiculous as it may seem, must begin in the early twenties to have any chance of providing a decent lifestyle in old age!     The number of people in the UK who are 100 years old or more is currently over 11,600 ….3 times more than 30 years ago!  So a person in their twenties today can reasonably expect to live at least twenty years after reaching retirement age….even if this is raised to seventy as is being suggested

Now just in case you feel that I’m being a bit downbeat, let me assure you that I believe the prospects for a happy and successful future are as good as, if not better, than ever. But now is the time to plan the right course. 

Below are ten tips for today’s school leavers.  In the meantime I’m going to campaign for companies to take a much more enlightened view regarding recruitment policy, and urge them to ‘hire for attitude and train for skills’

  • Think very carefully about what you’ve just read and determine what the most sensible course is for you to take.  Don’t allow peer pressure to force you into a wrong decision.


  • Seek advice from people who are qualified to give it in a totally unbiased way.  In other words not just mum and dad or their dinner party friends!


  • Read ‘The Richest Man in Babylon’.   You can buy an original version from Amazon for less than four pounds. There is also a new and revised version available in hardback for £13.49.  I owe more to the major lesson I learned from this book, which I came across in my late twenties, than any other single factor which has enabled me to become financially independent.


  • Get a job.   Any job….as long as it’s with a reputable company, regardless as to how big or small.  It doesn’t matter if the pay is poor to begin with. This is all about work experience, developing some skills, gaining confidence in the workplace and developing a reputation. You’ll move on to other and better things before too long.


  • Have a great attitude!  And above all, develop self discipline.  These two characteristics, combined with enthusiasm, will propel you forward in whatever you do.


  • Now start thinking longer term about what you would really like to do.  Try to plan three or four years ahead. Five at the most. 


  • Find a mentor.  I’ve never met a successful person who couldn’t attribute some of their success to the help and advice they got from at least one person along the way.  Read some autobiographies if you need to be convinced.


  • Begin to set more specific goals, both for your career and your life in general.


  • Be an extra miler. Do more than you are expected to. Stay positive and stay focused. Keep in mind that many of your colleagues at work will be lazy, unmotivated, looking for an easy life, fairly negative and lacking real ambition. It’s easy to stand out from the crowd. Just don’t allow yourself to be influenced by them. Be very careful about who you choose to associate with.


  • Finally, and I wanted to put this at the top of the list but modesty prevailed, read my book ‘Power Secrets of the Rich and Successful’   It’s taken from the best university of all….the University of Life!    It’s a proven guide to Wealth, Health and Happiness.

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