For those sixth-formers picking up their A-level results on Thursday, these are difficult times: youth employment is up, university places are down, and they're much more likely than before the recession to end up with nothing. So it's a good time for the University of Plymouth to be trialling a new format for its business degree course, which will (inter alia) see students doing regular work experience slots with different employers. Since businesses are always moaning about the employability of grads these days, this is arguably long-overdue - universities should be working closely with local industry to make sure their grads have the kind of skills and experience employers need. But of course, that's only part of the problem...
According to the university's Hilary Duckett (as quoted by the Telegraph), business degrees 'have tended to be quite theoretical and backwards-looking'. Re-jigging the course will mean more recognition for workplace learning, she added - and apparently, they've signed up the likes of KPMG and Plymouth Guild to supply the work experience slots. This makes sense not only for the students but also for the universities themselves: partnerships like these can make their courses stand out to potential grads. Besides, if the purpose of a business degree is to prepare students for the business world, it makes sense for them to be taught with a practical, rather than a theoretical, focus.
The wider point, though, is that both school and university leavers are facing very uncertain prospects: according to a new study by the Private Equity Foundation and ippr, the proportion of those with A-levels who are now NEET (not in employment, education or training) has risen from 6.4% to 9% since the start of the recession, while for grads, it has jumped from 7.5% to 11.4%. These are huge rises. So it makes sense for universities to be trying harder to act as a bridge to the world of work - and, for that matter, for more employers to offer apprenticeship schemes to those who don't want (or can't afford) to go to university. On the other hand, these are arguably the lucky ones: of those who leave school with no qualifications, a frightening 36.1% are now NEET.
It all adds up to a skills deficit that could present a huge social and economic problem for the UK further down the line. The Government, business, universities and charities all need to do a better job of working together if we’re going to have any hope of resolving it.
In today's bulletin:
High street bounces back in July - and borrowing falls
GM outlines big risks in $20bn IPO plan
Women will have to wait 57 years for equal pay
Graduates and school leavers in danger of being left behind?
Bangers and cash: Lincolnshire levies sausage tax