Ben Wells: Will higher student debt affect employers’ reward strategies?

The Browne Review essentially suggests an increasingly commercial approach to higher education. With new levels and horizons of student debt, the value of higher education has gone up and is now a significant investment choice for young people and their parents.

Is university the right investment? If it is, what return can they expect during their career? If it isn’t, where can they get better-value higher education? Savvy businesses can structure reward offerings around education being an investment in yourself.

To make rational self-investment decisions, university students will seek a clearer view on the likely ‘return’ – how much future ‘career currency’ will a degree buy? Employers can structure their employment offering to include clearer career paths and earning bands, as well as lifestyle options that could open up.

Young people who question the investment in university may be attracted to alternative forms of higher education. Companies can attract and retain these people with offerings and incentives to encourage development that rivals university. Employers can offer a mix of experienced-based development, exposure to new opportunities, formal apprentice-orientated higher education.

With higher education having a greater perceived value, the idea of learning new skills and continual development may become more valued by employees. Employers can play to this by integrating development more and more in the overall reward proposition. They might allow individuals to trade traditional benefits (pension, insurance) for investment in training and development, or could create incentives around the acquisition of new capabilities.

– Ben Wells, senior consultant, Buck Consultants