It’s that time of year again: school exam results, and pictures of happy young people getting the results for which they hoped, alongside grim stories of those who have failed to make the grade! “Desperate for a degree?” in the Metro on 28th August, ‘”Carnage’ as pupils scramble for university places“, or “Universities swamped in mad dash for places” in the Times
Much of this reporting is highly misleading, especially concerning the difficult decisions young people are facing when they do not get the results that they had wanted. The Metro, for example, comments that “”Up to 200,000 youngsters were expected to miss out on higher education places despite record A-level results”. Not a bit of it. Why should anyone think they are missing out?
To be sure, it is very unfortunate when school leavers do much less well at their A levels than expected. However, they should always have kept one of their university options as a safety net, in case of this eventuality. There is absolutely no point in keeping an offer of AAA and another of AAB, when realistically there is a possibility that you might get BBB. Moreover, there is a fundamentally misplaced assumption that anyone who gets A levels – even low grades – should automatically be able to go to a university! Why? University entry is not an automatic right. It should be reserved for those who can benefit most from it, and can best use the opportunity to enhance their knowledge and understanding.
Although youth (18-24 year olds) unemployment in the UK fell by 16,000 over the last month, it is still 324,000 according to the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion. Many young people are therefore choosing to try to go to poor quality universities, rather than entering the ranks of the unemployed. Even with average student debt around £25,000 after three years, this is seen as being desirable primarily as a lifestyle choice. The expectation is that graduate salaries will more than enable this debt to be paid off. Anyway, at this age, who really cares?
There is little point, though, in many young people with poor A levels scrabbling to go to a university. Many degrees offer few skills that will ever be of relevance in the job market. Indeed, employers regularly complain about the low skill levels of graduates in the UK! These people would be far better off starting on apprenticeships or entering the work environment immediately. They would not saddle themselves with debt, and in many instances their career prospects are just as good as those of graduates. Moreover, by the time they are 21 they will have three years of income over and above their peers who waste three years simply ‘having a good time’ at university. Graduate employment is tough – it is currently estimated that there are now some 70 people searching for every graduate job! So, instead of going to university, those young people who are not really interested in academic studies should turn to the job market (see report in the Sunday Times on the university of life!).
This is really where we are failing young people. Youth unemployment is far too high. We need to encourage more apprenticeship schemes, and create opportunities for more young people to be gainfully employed. It is far better for them to be working productively rather than costing tax payers money simply to enable them to gain increasingly worthless degrees at low quality universities. Better still, we should close down half of these so-called universities, and instead create training institutes that would enable young people to gain the skills needed to compete successfully in the global employment market!
So let’s stop fooling ourselves. Very few young people are actually missing out on university places!