The conflict between baby boomers and millennials is not likely to come to a peaceful resolution soon. Irrespective of the accusations that each side makes against the other, the fact remains that young people and their older counterparts have different perspectives on life.


One of the things that is a source of conflict between these two generations is university education. It should not be forgotten that the tuition fees were raised to £9,000 (and they were raised again recently, retroactively in the case of current students to £9,250) by a group of people who were fortunate enough to study at the world’s greatest universities for free.

The problem that millennials are uniquely faced with is, in light of the debt that can so easily be incurred now, whether a university degree is worth it. It is not dissimilar to the decision that the government makes on every child’s behalf when they spend an estimated £86 billion a year on state schools. It is more than an altruistic gesture motivated by the virtues of learning and erudition, it is a financial decision: the government is spending that money with the expectation that in a generation, today’s children will start work and pay it back in the form of taxes. When a young person decides to go to university, they are making the same choice: is the expenditure worth it now because it will show a return in the future? (graduates suffer less unemployment and can expect to earn half a million pounds more over the course of a lifetime).

If a degree is seen as a way of more effectively monetising your labour, the issue then becomes which degrees are going to produce the greatest return? Research has shown that STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) graduates earn more than people who study other disciplines. Another option is to study something with the express purpose of making money, such as an online msc international accounting and finance course. However, is that a good enough reason to pursue one if it is not the thing to which you wish to dedicate your life? Poetry or music or philosophy may be the things that motivate you and inflame your imagination. Lots of people, who seem to claim an authority on the realities of life, will tell you that these disciplines are a waste of time because they have no real-world application. They are wrong.

The arts and humanities are not just a plaything for the idle rich. They are, in the words of Kurt Vonnegut, what makes life more bearable. Studying art or anthropology or sociology is not a selfish waste of time that will benefit no one. These subjects are a legitimate way of understanding the world around us and trying to comprehend to a greater degree what life is for, and how to make it better. While maths graduates may be able to get a high-paying job before they’ve managed to take off their graduation cap, what will they be able to boast when they look back on their life? To have increased profits?

The argument that someone should dedicate a lot of money and three years of their life (and their career) to something that will make them money, is shortsighted at best. At worst, it is a condemnation of the vibrant individuality of young people and the potential that they have.