Do marketers need a degree?

The introduction of higher tuition fees has sparked predictions of a long-term decline in the number of graduates entering the marketing industry. But instead of viewing the drop as trigger for a potential dearth in top talent, some in the industry believe brands should take the opportunity to draw from a more diverse pool to find future marketing leaders.


The prospect of fees to a maximum of £9,000 per year has led to an 8% drop in the number of students taking their place on university courses next week when the Autumn term begins, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas). Applications for marketing courses have also dropped, by 6 per cent, according to Ucas.

The route to marketing has traditionally mirrored that of most professional services; undergraduate course followed by the bottom rung or bespoke graduate training scheme. Unlike law or accountancy, however, it is not necessary to have a related degree to enter the marketing profession. This has led some in the industry to question whether marketers need a degree to perform and progress in their job and career.

Anna Stubbs, director of education at The Chartered Institute of Marketing – which offers marketing-specific training and guidance to graduates and non-graduates – says although the marketing industry does need a “steady supply of well qualified, thinking, problem-solving people” they do not need not degrees.

She adds: “It’s important to remember that the best marketers are those who have a mixture of theoretical knowledge and on-the-job experience. 

“Employers want people who they know will be able to do the job.  There are increasingly more and more valid ways for candidates to prove their abilities, and, now more than ever, there’s no single right way to begin or develop a marketing career; we need to make sure that young people are aware of the different routes that are available to them.”   

Ian Cranna, marketing director at Starbucks, agrees that aptitude and not qualification is the key to a successful marketing career.

“I think you can be successful in whatever walk of life you choose with many different access points. There are incredibly successful people in the industry with marketing degrees, many successful with alternative degrees and many others that have come in through different routes. I don’t think it’s a about a graduate specifically. A commitment and wanting to be successful is very important,” he adds.

Until this academic year, the number of graduates has been increasing year on year, driven by the then Labour Government’s policy of widening access to University places to boost the percentage of 18-year-olds going to university to 50 per cent. Many criticised the policy, with detractors arguing it devalues degrees and reduced the number of young people entering the workplace with vocational qualifications.

Camilla Woodhouse, programme director of the Marketing Week supported Marketing Academy – which offers The Merlin’s Apprentice Scheme, 12 months paid work experience with a marketing qualification – says the major recruiters of marketing talent should look upon the possible drop in graduate numbers as an opportunity to rethink their approach to identifying the best candidates and recruit people from more diverse backgrounds.

“Companies need a diversity of people and the ‘milk round’ of graduates lack that diversity….education is a way to decide on who the best candidates are but not the only way. I understand that companies want to identify the brightest people but there are other ways to identify those people. There needs to be a shift in approach if this [declining university numbers] becomes a long-term trend”.

For some in the industry, however, a degree is the best way to filter the best candidates. Andrew Garrihy, director of corporate marketing at Samsung UK and Ireland says a degree is “really critical” for a marketer.

“A degree does two things: it really helps marketers learn to learn. Secondly, if it’s a good University, it brings out the basic discipline so we [employer and employee] are talking in the same language.”

Tim Gilbert, director of marketing recruitment at Robert Walters, says although a degree is not a pre-requisite to becoming a good marketer, on a practical level having one offers prospects a leg up.

“Employers do value degrees as they demonstrate academic attainment, intellectual ability and a commitment to learn and succeed….This is not to say you can’t have a successful marketing career without a university education but it will be easier to get your foot in the door initially if you do,” he adds.

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