So many final-year students focus solely on graduate jobs and training schemes, SMEs are overlooked, many of which will take those with lower than a 2:1 and without any degree at all if relevant experience can be demonstrated.
Experience will give you the edge against other candidates with similar academic credentials. In my field (IT) practical experience and a passion/willingness to learn will balance out a ropey CV, no question.
It depends on the job, if you want a graduate job you need a degree as a basic requirement, but your work experience and who you know is invaluable; every man and his dog nowadays seems to have a degree, you need to set yourself apart. I'd say degrees are important, but experience seems to be more impressive to employers as you can show you have the skill set for that job rather than transferable skills from a degree alone.
If you're talking about getting jobs then I would make sure to build up skills through other means whilst getting your degree. Obviously work experience, placements and internships are all important but really any other activity which develops transferable skills is going to be helpful for you and attractive to employers - the usual team sports demonstrating cooperation or being the treasurer for a society or a weekend job all give you a deal of confidence which a lot of people just don't seem to have and if you identify the attributes which they have given you and make sure to point them out in an interview then you'll be earning yourself plus points. Small things like that can be a lot easier or more realistic than arranging an impressive placement, you just need to market them well.
If you're looking at the wider picture I would still say that a combination of the two is important. I firmly believe that if there is a job which you are eager to do and there are multiple entry routes that the one which involves learning on the job is the best option. Yes, university can be a great social experience and offer a lot of opportunities which might not otherwise come up, but going directly into a job shows that you are committed to that career path and lets you earn a wage and contribute more than you would at uni. However I think that if you aren't sure about what you want to do then it is best to study something which interests you as a degree will often boost your chances of getting a 'good' job in the future and open more doors which would otherwise be closed. I can say personally that I learnt more and developed more as a person working for a shop in a year and living abroad for a year than I did in my first year of university: a degree isn't the be all and end all.
Having good experience is more impressive in the sense that degrees are not special anymore; they are simply a minimum requirement. However, due to the fact that you need a degree to even apply in the first place means that a degree is obviously more valuable as you can still apply without experience, but not without the former.
It really depends. Years of experience in the relevant sector can easily make up for lack of a degree. A degree shows commitment and an ability to learn- but I'd want to see experience (whether voluntary or paid) alongside it.
Ultimately, it all comes down to interview- can the candidate show me they have the skills needed for the job, and in particular do they seem like someone I'd be happy to work with? Politeness, conversation skills and common sense go a long way.
I've seen people with fantastic-looking CVs and good degrees who don't get the basics right, and it's always very disappointing.
Its important to distinguish between relevant experience and just experience. Having a degree and (as people in this thread have mentioned), having worked at maccy d's isn't really going to put you in a good spot. Having a degree and having relevant work experience doing a related internship over your summer holidays is going to put you in a much better spot.