More people than ever before follow university programs. There is a shortage of technological skills in many countries, but not of diplomas in general. The Economist shows that ‘over-education’ is becoming common. University graduates in the USA work in jobs that used to be done by non-academics in the 1970s. Since then, the ‘graduate premium’ in the US has grown to 15%. That is, an investment in education is as profitable as an investment with an annual return of 15%. In European countries, this number is about 9%. However, the graduate premium differs strongly per domain: graduates in medicine, physics and finance earn a lot, whereas business and psychology students do not. Moreover, this graduation premium is levelling out in many fields.
The situation in the US, Germany, the Netherlands and South Korea seems to change into one of ‘over-education’. Importantly, many jobs have become more complex and require diplomas, so you need more skills and diplomas to work in a modern factory or store. Nonetheless, there is a tendency of graduates ending up with jobs below their competence level. Many graduates in business, psychology and law (eventually) take on secretary-like positions that do not necessarily require academic titles or capacities. Think of Mae in The Circle, who works in customer satisfaction.
More studies will lose the ‘graduation premium’ simply due to the fact that so many students graduated from applied or classic academic institutions: in the Netherlands, Finland and the UK, this is roughly 45% for people aged 30-35. The great exception is formed by South Korea, with 70% educated at academic level. The future of education lies in the specialization of thinking and skills in post-graduation trajectories. An academic diploma is the starting point for high-end work. It is no longer a guarantee for a high-paid job, if not combined with further ‘lifelong’ learning.