This week, The London Evening Standard has been running a series of articles looking at the problems of youth unemployment in the capital. Today, it published a related article featuring interviews with a group of young adults who all decided that the traditional route from school to university to employment wasn’t for them.
The introduction of higher fees for higher education is making students and their families consider university in a different light. In previous decades, the experience of going to university was seen by many to be as important as the resulting academic qualification but the idea of leaving higher education with debts of around £30,000 for fees alone means that many prospective students and their parents will now look at going to university more as an investment decision than as an education one.
Most of the young adults interviewed were old enough to have avoided the fees increase, which makes it all the more interesting that they still chose alternatives to higher education. Many of them would have had the opportunity to gain a degree without the additional debt but still felt that other routes would be better for them, having recognised that the traditional notion of a degree leading to a higher paid job was no longer valid.
One interviewee, Eveie Longdon, who started work aged 17 was quoted as saying that, “at school people are pressured into going to university when it isn’t necessarily right for them.” Perhaps the focus in schools should be on providing pupils with the skills they need to make their own, informed choices as to their futures, rather than trying to push them all along the same post-16 route.
What seems clear to me is that, no matter what path young people want to take from education to employment, the current system of education does not prepare them adequately for the world of work. For some, a university education will still be the most suitable course of action but they need the skills to understand how to manage the debt they incur so as to leave higher education in the best possible shape. Likewise, those that look to enter the jobs market earlier need to know how to support themselves properly, find a home of their own and make their own financial decisions.
If we are to give this generation the best chance of success, then we need to provide them with a set of appropriate life skills at the right stage of their lives – that is, before they leave secondary education so that they have a chance to avoid making costly mistakes at the start of their careers.