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At Elephant Creative we’re a mixed bunch and our experiences with university are varied. For some of us graduation is now just a certificate at the bottom of a desk drawer, for others of us it’s still a dissertation away. We’re graduates, post-grads and undergrads. Some of us left university early, some didn’t go in the first place. As student debts continue to climb and graduates are fighting for underpaid jobs, we decided to look at the true cost of university and what it really gets you.

We love a good infographic and this one brings together the average cost of university life into one tidy image. To summarise, it calculates that the average student racks up £20,000 of tuition fee debts and up to £27,000 additional costs debts – including accommodation, textbooks, food and living costs. What it also points out is a loss of earnings. Should you walk straight into a job post-A level and earn a basic wage, you still have the potential to get your hands on £27k over the three years you would be at university. Add this loss of earnings to your other debts and you’re left with a £75,000 shaped hole in your wallet. Ouch.


If universities want to convince students that the debt is worth it they need to offer more to make them stand out from the sea of job-seeking degree holders. They need to encourage part-time jobs and more in the way of organised extra curricular activities. Not just basketball and LARPing but, as we talked about previously, entrepreneurial options for both business and non-business minded students. There should be less of a focus on the stats and numbers and more on what university should really be about – preparing you for a successful career and developing you as skilled, creative thinker. Not only that, they should help students decide what success means. Is it really just earning more than someone without a degree?

Universities have an opportunity to show that entrepreneurship and self-motivated careers are not just for those that sign up for Business Studies. By creating, developing and marketing new ways to do business, they can help build a generation of graduates that aren’t lost outside of a textbook and are ready to give it a go on their own two feet. Universities need to go where students are, online and in person, to spread the message. They can’t just dazzle them with pound signs and fancy suits, it needs to be more realistic and honest. Their marketing should be focused on what the student gets as an individual and how they can develop, they need to prove that it’s worth the £75,000 of debt and not just ignore the numbers and hope they go away (like the annual statement!)


Comments from EC associate Becky Hunt

I’ve been to a total of three universities. I tried one, didn’t like it. Decided to leave, worked for a year and then went back for round two. This time I walked out with a degree but didn’t feel much the wiser. When I couldn’t find a job I went back again for a Masters but three months in realised I, like many other prospective university students, was just doing it because I didn’t know what else to do.

My undergraduate university was a red brick and felt very divided, arts vs science. Technically classed as an arts student (although I’ll fight for Linguistics being a science) I wasn’t made very aware of business opportunities or projects while I was there. There must have been modules and groups but they weren’t obvious, you had to hunt for them.

Image source: SpecGram (

The course was sold to me as an exciting world of language where I could become anything from a Forensic Linguist to an Independent Publisher. In reality my lecturers assumed I’d be continuing with an MA or becoming a teacher. There was no drive or motivation to think past the forthcoming exams. Outside my textbooks I felt that I didn’t know how I could apply my degree to anything. I wanted to work for the dictionary, I wanted to be the next J K Rowling – they told us to stick to our comfort zones and look back to page 10.

It’s not all that bad. University did teach me a thing or two, particularly about time and money management. I worked in the holidays and sometimes in term time and I think that helped me keep a career focus. When things got tough it was my dissertation deadline that kept me focused and with only 4 hours of lectures a week I really had to learn how to be self-disciplined.

It paid off because three years after graduating I’m working as my own boss. University might not have taught me what I wanted but it did show me what I didn’t want. I didn’t want to join commuters on the treadmill, I didn’t want to be useless outside my comfort zone and I didn’t want to get stuck in a tiny town in the middle of the Lake District. Now, working as a Freelance Copywriter, I’ve got a career doing something I enjoy, it definitely put me out of my comfort zone and I can take my job anywhere in the world. Thanks university, I think!