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By Malcolm Trotter, global education and training professional

As the landscape of education and employment continues to evolve, it’s essential to question whether traditional pathways to qualifications are right for us. We will invest money, time and effort, and we should be sure we will see benefits.

Return on your investment
As with any investment or expenditure, you need to be confident that you will secure some value; you want to be sure that you get more than you put in. Unless you are eligible for fee-free education in Scotland, you are looking at a substantial cash commitment to gain a degree, and it is not unreasonable to expect a decent return on this investment. The good news is that there is evidence that university graduates earn more than non-graduates, with the most recent official statistics showing that in the UK, on average, graduates earn £11,500 per year more than non-graduates.

But that doesn’t mean graduates are guaranteed higher paid positions. A third (36%) of UK graduates are in lower-level jobs that do not require a degree and therefore are lower paid. As with any investment, there are risks to mitigate, and that involves choosing a career path wisely.

More than money
Many graduates find that when it comes to securing employment after university, they are not actually well-matched to the job vacancies available or perhaps even to the careers that they have worked towards. The appropriateness of studies in relation to career paths is a crucial consideration for prospective students.

While university degrees offer the opportunity to specialise in specific fields, providing tailored knowledge and skills that align with desired career trajectories, the flexibility of course selection allows students to explore various disciplines, providing a well-rounded education that can be beneficial in today’s dynamic job market. Being open to flexible career goals is one way to increase a satisfactory return on your investment of time and effort.

It is estimated that one in eight higher level jobs—those considered as ‘graduate’ positions—held by younger people are actually filled by non-graduates. These non-graduates may hold recognised professional qualifications and/or offer compelling work experience and achievements.

This offers an alternative route to the degree path, but it is worth noting that whilst some training and work experience can give you a range of professional skills that other employers will find attractive, frequently the training provided by employers is focused on the specific needs and methods of that organisation and may have limited application to other employers and settings. Therefore, to enter and progress in a professional field (to a higher level), it is really important to gain qualifications that a wide range of employers recognise as being credible and relevant to the role you wish to apply for.

The bottom line is, if you want to progress your career, can you afford not to study for and gain a recognised and relevant professional qualification?

More than a few YouTube videos
With the availability of many low cost and even free online courses, it can be tempting to think that you can learn all that you need to from these. Whilst these can give you a useful taste of the subjects and sometimes take you further, many do not have a form of credible assessment and certification. Without this, employers can be uncertain as to what you may have learnt and therefore be unsure about the credibility of any certificate that you may have been issued with. For this reason, it is very important to be confident of the acceptability and recognition by employers of the qualification you are considering studying for.

In general terms, acceptable and recognised qualifications are those that are designed and awarded by the relevant professional bodies (institutes and associations of actual professionals in the same career field). The National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP) is just one example. Its credibility is demonstrated by the fact that its qualifications are designed, assessed and awarded by legally qualified and experienced professionals in the same field. The qualifications are also Ofqual recognised, and employers can therefore rely on its curriculum (qualification content) to be relevant. This means that those who gain NALP qualifications have demonstrated genuine, professional ability in their assessed course work and any exams.

Employers often value the skills and attributes acquired through education. Qualifications signal not only subject-specific knowledge but also broader competencies such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills, with many employers considering candidates with qualifications better equipped to navigate complex challenges and contribute effectively to their organisations.
Professional qualifications enable you to show that you are committed and dedicated enough to complete a course and to demonstrate to potential employers that you have a certain level of ability within a certain field. They can also allow you to command a higher salary.

So, if you are looking to take the next step in your career, whatever and wherever that may be, then consider investing in yourself and your future by choosing a relevant recognised qualification which will give you the boost you need.

Malcolm Trotter is a global education and training professional, with extensive experience in post-compulsory / tertiary teaching and learning, qualification development and awarding and the quality assurance of education and training institutions. He has also been a member of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP) Governing Board since 2018.

Graduate labour market statistics, Calendar year 2022 – Explore education statistics – GOV.UK (
One in eight young people without degrees work in graduate jobs – Office for National Statistics (