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News, Student Debt

“A good degree no longer guarantees a job, but university is not the only way for young people to get ahead”

By Dominique Jackson

Last updated at 3:56 PM on 31st January 2012

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So the UCAS figures are finally out and – surprise, surprise – total applications to universities and colleges are down 10 per cent from 506,338 to 462,507. Inevitably, this has been attributed to the trebling of tuition fees to £9,000, with an attendant huge outcry that middle class sixth formers have been hardest hit by the fee hikes.

According to Labour higher education spokesman Shabana Mahmood: ‘The drastic increase in fees and the increased debt burden is putting people of all ages off going to university and investing in their future. Most students will be paying off their debts most of their working lives.’
Decline: The number of university applicants across England has fallen by nearly 10 per cent following news that most universities will impose higher charges this autumn

Decline: The number of university applicants across England has fallen by nearly 10 per cent following news that most universities will impose higher charges this autumn

There are certainly some worrying emerging trends in these UCAS figures, not least the dramatic 21.5 per cent fall in non-European languages and equally disturbing drops in the numbers applying to study Technologies and Architecture.

Yet don’t these statistics point towards a rather more realistic attitude towards the personal cost, both in time and money, of university? To a more sober assessment of the ultimate value of doggedly insisting upon another few years of higher education? Shouldn’t we be welcoming this new clear-eyed approach?

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VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

It is extremely tough out there right now for young jobseekers, whether they are graduates or not. More than one million young people are now unemployed and the figures are predicted to rise before they fall. We need to be preparing our young people for the workforce and that is why I disagree with Shabana Mahmood: going to university is simply not the only way for young people to invest in their future.

In this economic climate, what we really need are more apprenticeships, to train up a new generation of appropriately qualified technicians and craftsmen. We need more specifically-targeted, vocational courses, at the end of which more students will be able to find a practical application for the skills they have worked so hard to acquire. In short, we need to prepare them properly to find a role within our society and that surely means a reasonably remunerated job?
Bleak future: More than one million young people are now unemployed and the figures are predicted to rise

Bleak future: More than one million young people are now unemployed and the figures are predicted to rise

I have already written about the endemic and truly shocking problem of youth unemployment on this forum, more than once. Earlier this month, I suggested that geology graduate Cait Reilly, who is suing the government for breaching her human rights for making her work in Poundland to secure her Jobseekers Allowance, might have done better to buckle down and make the most of her week stacking shelves.

Many older readers appeared to agree with me but I was subjected to a barrage of critical response and even a mini-Twitter storm from a score of articulate and vociferous young people, all of them still desperately job-seeking, months after graduating with highly respectable degrees from equally respectable institutions.

It was OK for me, was the general drift, with my Oxford education and my cosy little number writing for the Daily Mail website, but they were really, really trying and had yet to find a job.
Pragmatism: Don’t these statistics point towards a rather more realistic attitude towards the personal cost, both in time and money, of university?

Pragmatism: Don’t these statistics point towards a rather more realistic attitude towards the personal cost, both in time and money, of university?

Many of them had indeed accepted low or unpaid internships and work experience but all of them made the perfectly fair point that this option is just not open to all. Without the bank of Mum and Dad, working for free is simply not an option for the vast majority of students; they still had, somehow, to eat.

I wanted to find out more, so I tentatively engaged with a couple of my critics. The overwhelming sentiment was one of disappointment. They had been encouraged, at school, by their parents, by their peers, to apply for college. Once there, they had worked hard, at their course work and at anything extra-curricular they felt might enhance their CV. Now, three or four years later and saddled with significant debts, they appeared to have little choice but to sign on for the fifty quid provided on JSA.

‘It’s not fair’, explained one clearly immensely talented journalism studies graduate, ‘I was editor of the student magazine, I volunteered on hospital radio. My references are all sparkling. I find myself wondering now why I even bothered. Yet all I need is right now is for someone just to give me a chance to show what I can do’.
Worry: We need to talk about the endemic and truly shocking problem of youth unemployment

Worry: We need to talk about the endemic and truly shocking problem of youth unemployment

I had to agree: it is not fair and seems even more unjust that society has, albeit unconsciously, encouraged this generation to believe that the hard-won prize of a university degree is the key to a well-paid and enjoyable career.

Sadly, the world economy has taken a distinctly sombre turn since last year’s crop of graduates were first looking through university prospectuses and filling out their applications in 2008-2009. Back then, it seemed like a no-brainer – go to college, get a degree and then get a job, and a good one at that. Those certainties have now gone.

The sixth formers who were weighing up the pros and cons of a university course before Christmas have wisely looked, not just at higher education, but at all of their options. There is no wonder that so many of them have voted with their feet. Theirs is the more pragmatic, perhaps less self-indulgent decision and I wish them well.

Obviously, I am not calling for the abolition of all non-vocational, mainly arts-based degree courses. Aeons ago, I studied languages, which gave me both some practical skills and plenty of time to read and discuss literature. Clearly, we need to ensure we maintain a good balance of students opting for the scientific, practical or the vocational and those choosing the rather less specific, more creative, mainly arts-based degrees.

However, the era when BBC presenter Jeremy Vine could spend a whole afternoon, goofing off from his studies at Durham University, to read Paradise Lost at leisure, or Ms Mahmood herself was able to spend hours away from her Oxford college library, in the pursuit of her student political career, is unfortunately, probably over.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2094385/A-good-degree-longer-guarantees-job-university-way-young-people-ahead.html#ixzz1l4zOQyLe

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