This summer, EY, a global accounting firm, announced it was removing academic qualifications from its entry criteria for new hires: “Our research found no evidence to conclude that previous success in higher education correlated with future success,” the firm wrote in a press release. Along with spiralling tuition fees, developments like these leave many young people wondering whether university is really worth all the time, effort and money.

We’ve always been told that education – the “great equalizer” – was a guarantee of a better, brighter future. But now that seems less obvious. In fact, according to a new report from the International Labour Organization (ILO), in some regions, the more qualified a young person is, the more likely they are to be unemployed.

Figure 1: Youth unemployment rate by level of education, 2012-2013

Figure 1

Chart source: ILO; Data source: SWTS and Eurostat
Note: The number of countries is shown in parentheses

The ILO puts this down to two things. First, those with a tertiary education tend to come from more privileged backgrounds, and can therefore afford to turn down work until the right job comes along. Second, some economies are still not developed enough to have demand for high-skilled workers.

And yet the same report finds that with very few exceptions, young workers are more likely to be undereducated for the work they do. In low-income countries, young people are three times more likely to be undereducated than those in upper middle-income countries

Figure 2: Qualification mismatch of youth, 2012-2013

Figure 2

Chart source: ILO; Data source: SWTS and International Labour Organization
Note: The number of countries is shown in parentheses

While a degree might not be a guarantee of a good job, for most people, high-quality education – aligned with labour market requirements – still seems the safest route to a fulfilling career. Even one of the world’s most famous college dropouts, Bill Gates, thinks so: “Although I dropped out of college and got lucky pursuing a career in software, getting a degree is a much surer path to success.”

Author: Stéphanie Thomson is an Editor at World Economic Forum

Image: A graduate wears a houndstooth ribbon on her graduation cap. REUTERS/Marvin Gentry