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Degrees of doubt

Cynicism over the value of a degree is rife among employers, according to a new survey that reveals that many firms would prefer a school leaver with two years' work experience than a recent graduate.

Two-thirds of the 400 UK firms surveyed subscribed to this opinion, with this figure rising among smaller businesses.

Competition for university places is more intense than ever, with 100,000 students destined to miss out on university places this year. Around 40 percent are expected to reapply next year, and face course fees that are three times higher. Amid this background, Andrew Cook, country general manager for recruitment consultancy Kelly Services, said that this latest business survey, commissioned by Santander, revealed that 'formal education was less important than work experience.'

But Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the umbrella group Universities UK, reminded teenagers that, on average, graduates earn 'considerably more' than those who haven't been to university, and that graduates are more likely to be employed than non-graduates.

'It is also important to remember that the job market is changing,' she said. 'The Confederation of British Industry predicted earlier this year that by 2017, 56% more jobs will require people to hold graduate-level qualifications. A university education does not just increase your chances of getting a job on leaving university, but also provides you with skills for life.'

But a source in the Department for Business said that the coalition had put 10,000 extra undergraduate places up for grabs at English universities last year and would continue to do so.

The source said: 'There will be more generous financial support, such as higher maintenance grants and more fee waivers. Repayments will be lower too, meaning graduates will typically have over £300 a year more disposable income.'

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