Research conducted by the Resolution Foundation, and endorsed by Willetts, shows that the importance of having a degree has increased over time, in defiance of the assumption that the more highly educated people there are, the less valuable their qualifications. In the noughties, the fewer qualifications you had, the harder it was to maintain good earnings. Higher education improves your chances of finding a remunerative, enjoyable line of work.
There are two entirely different concepts being discussed here.
1) Does tertiary education likely lead to higher incomes for those with tertiary education?
2) Does having more people with tertiary education lead to lower wage premiums for those with tertiary education?
It\’s entirely possible that both are true: that there is a premium to having a university degree but that premium is declining.
Which is, pretty much, what you\’d expect to be happening actually. As the supply of something increases the market clearing price of that things fall, unless we\’ve got something really very strange going on (Giffen Goods and all that sort of stuff). Equally, if something confers a privilege and more people have that something we\’d expect the number gaining that privilege to rise.
Now, what actually seems to have been happening is that 2) is very definitely true. So much so that 1) is only partially true. Various people have been saying that an arts degree for a male (subject to the usual caveats, an arts degree for a male from Cambridge might not do this yet but English Lit. from a fourth tier place probably does) has a negative net present value…..in purely economic terms that is. The cost of the course, the years out of the workforce and not earning, are greater than the extra (if any) wages earned over the working life.