'Summer of despair' ahead for graduates and students

The Conservatives accuse the Government of failing Britain's youth, reports Rebecca Attwood

July 16, 2009

MPs have accused the Government of failing students and graduates during the economic downturn, warning that "tens of thousands" could be left without a university place this autumn.

In a debate in the House of Commons last week, the Conservatives said young people would be among the principal victims of the recession and faced a bleak future.

"As the recession bites, young Britons are being bitten hard; their hopes torn apart, their futures damaged," said John Hayes, Shadow Minister for Higher Education.

"We are sorrowful for the school leavers who hoped to go to university but will not; sorrowful for the graduates who hoped to find good jobs but cannot; sorrowful for the forgotten army of one million youths not in education, employment or training, who once dared to dream but now do not. Every member of the House should share my sorrow that Britain in 2009 has come to this, and share my anger at a government who could have done more."

The debate came as figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service showed a 10 per cent rise in applications to university, with 50,000 more students than last year applying to start courses in the autumn.

According to the Million+ group, more than 35,000 well-qualified students may not secure places this year, because of high demand and the Government's decision to slow down university expansion.

Mr Hayes said places in clearing were expected to drop by two thirds, arguing that the Government should pay for 25,000 extra masters degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to help graduates who cannot find jobs.

Stephen Williams, the Liberal Democrats' universities spokesman, said the country's young people faced "a summer of despair".

"This will probably be the most gloomy set of graduation parties ever, as people have to admit to each other that despite their achievement they still have no job," he said.

"We should remember that this cohort of new graduates are from the top-up fees generation - the first people to leave the higher education funding regime with £9,000 of fee-related debt that they will have to pay off during their working career. What a total change from the prospects that they thought must have been opening up in front of them back in the autumn of 2006 when they commenced their studies."

Mr Williams said his party backed a scheme that would offer incentives to study subjects critical to the country's economic future.

David Lammy, the Minister for Higher Education, told the House that there were 300,000 more students in higher education than in 1997.

He said the Government had shown a strong commitment to helping young people through the downturn, and to not repeating the mistakes of past recessions.

It had introduced the September Guarantee, offering all 16- and 17- year-olds an apprenticeship, school, college or training place, as well as the £1 billion Future Jobs Fund to guarantee a job, training or work experience for every young person unemployed for 12 months.

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com.

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