'Graduate glut' claim rubbished

April 30, 2004

Claims that the expansion of higher education will create a "glut" of graduates who cannot find well-paid jobs are wrong, according to a report on the country's skills gap published this week.

The report argues that Britain continues to suffer from a shortage of university-leavers, particularly in science subjects.

Based on a comprehensive review of research, and backed by business and academic leaders, the report argues that Britain continues to suffer from a shortage of graduates, particularly those with science, engineering, advanced information technology and mathematics degrees.

The analysis, published by the Council for Industry and Higher Education, counters claims made last month by researchers from Cardiff and Lancaster universities.

They warned that higher education expansion threatened to leave a large number of graduates on low incomes or unemployed. Already only one in 20 is able to secure a lucrative graduate job with a blue-chip firm, they said.

It also contradicts last week's skills report from the British Chambers of Commerce. The BCC says that the government's goal of getting half of all 18 to 30-year-olds into higher education is misconceived as the country requires more people with non-graduate skills.

The CIHE report, produced by the Advanced Institute of Management programmes of the Economic and Social Research Council, suggests that demand for graduate skills remains high and is unlikely to tail off, although it concedes that higher education expansion alone is not the answer to the skills shortage.

It points out that Britain still lags significantly behind the US in the percentage of its workforce with higher-level qualifications and is far behind Germany and France in the proportion of workers with intermediate skills.

Just over 15 per cent of employees in Britain hold higher-level qualifications. In the US, this figure is closer to 28 per cent.

The international disparity is even more marked in certain parts of Britain, such as the Northeast, where only 9 per cent of employees are graduates. This compares with 21 per cent in the Southeast.

The report says this partly explains why the British economy has become trapped in a "low- skills equilibrium", where untrained managers run the majority of firms supervising workers who produce low-quality goods and services.

Many companies are reluctant to invest in the latest developments because workers lack the skills to maintain and upgrade the technology.

The government, further and higher education institutions and employers all have a role to play in helping to solve the problem, "yet all parties are currently contributing to the problem and all parties appear to be blaming each other", the report adds.

It acknowledges that "simply getting more people into higher education" is an inadequate solution.

It suggests that a coherent framework for all qualifications and credits and robust assessment systems for work-based learning should be developed to make it easier for more employees to gain higher-level qualifications.

Richard Brown, chief executive of the CIHE, said the research indicated there was little question that Britain needed more graduates.

He said: "The UK cannot compete with lower wage economies in the Far East.

That is why we are losing basic call-centre jobs to India. We need more skilled people in all walks of life, including graduates, with the range of skills, knowledge and drive to add value earlier in their careers."

tony.tysome@thes.co.uk

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