University challenge

By Gabrielle Pickard
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, July 7, 2010
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With graduates agreeing to work for no pay in China and students in the UK being told they should be flipping burgers to build life-skills, is there any point in going to university nowadays?

Graduates leaving university face an intense scramble to land themselves one of the diminishing number of jobs available. Competition in the jobs market is so fierce that they have been advised to work in fast food chains or supermarkets.

In a recent poll of over 200 British companies, the Association of Graduate Recruiters said there are a record number of 70 applications for every graduate-level job. And it predicts the number of available positions will drop by almost 7 percent this year. Amidst the gloom, Carl Gilleard, the chief executive of the association, gave this depressing advice to graduates.

"Any employment is better than no employment even if it's about flipping burgers or stacking shelves rather than being sat at home feeling sorry for yourself."

In China, graduates are facing similar employment pressures, but have come up with another response to the post-university, unemployed blues – work without pay.

But for most graduates unpaid internships are not a viable option. I spoke to Penny Waterman, who recently graduated from an English university with a degree in modern languages.

"I personally prefer China's approach, where graduates are embarking on unpaid work but for good, reputable companies, with the surmise it will pay off in the long run. Unfortunately I don't have a rich daddy to fall back on, so it looks like I'll be flipping burgers in an attempt to make ends meet and start paying off some of my debts, oh yes and improve my social skills of course!"

And just as graduates in the UK thought it could not get gloomier, for the first time in history the Association of Graduate Recruiters' survey shows that graduate starting salaries have remained stagnant for consecutive years, frozen at an average of 25,000 GBP.

Is going to university to acquire thousands of pounds worth of debt in exchange for uncertain job prospects a sensible move?

David Willets, Britain's minister for universities believes going to university is still a good investment. "The job market remains challenging for new graduates, as it does for others. But a degree is still a good investment in the long term, and graduates have a key role to play in helping Britain out of the recession."

Of course the minister for universities would say that, but accumulating debts only to be offered a fast-food job is hardly an incentive to battle it out for a university place.

The government should be increasing the number of university places, raising student grants and doing everything in their power to encourage people to continue or return to education. Instead, university places are being cut in the UK, while, for the fourth consecutive year, demand for places has hit a record high.

Unlike the current government which seems set on dissuading youngsters from going to university, Gordon Brown recognized and encouraged education, announcing a target of university places for 50 percent of young people. Brown praised China and India for boosting student numbers. But now the situation facing aspiring students in the UK looks grim. The world following the credit crunch seems to be particularly cruel to those who have sought higher education.

Tory MP David Willets is correct when he says graduates have a key-role in helping Britain out of recession. But this will not happen if fewer young people get to university, and face the prospect of mundane, low-paid jobs after graduation.

It is the government's job to pull Britain out of recession. But making savage public sector cuts that cause unemployment to skyrocket and leave students with the difficult decision – flip burgers now or flip burgers in three year's time – is not the way to go about it.

The author is a columnist with For more information please visit:


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