Starbucks has offered to pay their staff’s university fees – and it will have a bigger knock-on effect than you think

In a world where credentials matter more and more, people need to get through a series of hoops to have successful careers. Could this move make things easier for students and businesses alike?

When Starbucks offers a university education for most of its employees for free, you know something big is afoot.

Firms in the US and indeed the UK have long helped to pay for university for selected students, the idea being that they then go on to work for the company. It is a recruitment tool. But this scheme is bigger in scope and different in aim.

It is bigger in that it covers 140,000 of the company’s 191,000 employees, and it is different in that it seeks to improve the life opportunities of young and underprivileged workers. Now it is being extended to workers in the UK. If it is a success, expect many more companies to follow suit.

This says something really important about higher education more generally. In the first instance, who should pay for it? But also, are its costs too high and could technology be used to cut them? Is it designed to fulfil the changing needs of young people? And so on.

Different countries have different answers, and while all struggle, at least we can learn from each other. There is an excellent summary of the future of education ranking here by the pioneer of international comparisons of education systems. But let’s focus on the “who should pay for higher education?” question, because that is the immediate issue.


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