UUK calls for government-backed graduate internships

Vice-chancellors’ group says ministers must step in to protect graduating students from economic fallout of coronavirus

June 25, 2020
Two men walking past the Job Centre Plus government employment office in the centre of Weston-Super-Mare
Source: iStock

Universities UK has called on the government to provide universities and businesses with funding to set up paid internships for graduates, as well as an in-study interest break on the postgraduate master’s loan.

The vice-chancellors’ group said that students who are graduating this summer, as well as recent graduates, would need universities, businesses and government to come together to help them face the challenging post-coronavirus job market.

In its report, Supporting Graduates in a Covid-19 Economy, UUK says that, due to the scale of the challenge, which will result in fewer job opportunities and increased competition for graduates, the government should support a national programme of “recovery internships”.  

The report points out that figures from the Institute for Student Employers estimate graduate recruitment is already down 12 per cent compared with last year.

The funding from the programme would help offset the cost of employment by providing “a salary subsidy grant” to enable firms to hire a graduate for a fixed period.

UUK estimates that £500 million would be able to support at least 25,000 graduates to work with local businesses to have paid internships across the UK.

The figures is based on its 137 member universities each supporting about 200 graduates and each graduate being paid between £15,000 and £20,000 per year, UUK explains.

One way to support the scheme would be to channel additional new funds through the Higher Education Innovation Fund, the report says.

The programme would help ensure the economic crisis does not lead to an increase in unpaid internships, which would disadvantage students from poorer backgrounds, according to UUK.

It also recommends that students should be encouraged to take up postgraduate degrees because they are “not just beneficial for graduates wanting to avoid a challenging economic environment, but also helps provide the UK with the future skills and workforce needed to thrive in a changing economy” and boost the pipeline of people to embarking on a research career.

This is particularly useful as the UK is expected to see a dip in the number of international students, who make up a large proportion of those studying taught master’s, at UK universities this year, and institutions are already looking bump up their income with postgraduates.

To encourage more master’s students, particularly those from a lower socioeconomic background who are more likely to be put off taking out a postgraduate loan because of the perceptions of debt, the report recommended setting interest rates at 0 per cent for the duration of a postgraduate course.

Because the majority of students do not pay back their loans in full, the cost to the government would be small, UUK says.

The report also recommends greater support to coordinate graduate internship opportunities, and changes that would support a growth in “modular and bitesize learning opportunities”.

Julia Buckingham, president of Universities UK, said that “students, who have worked hard for years to get a degree or qualification they are proud of, should not have to pay the price for a situation that is outside their control”.

“In these unique and unforeseen circumstances, targeted support is needed to enable this year’s graduating class to realise their potential and prosper fully,” she said.

“Universities have been offering widespread support to help this year’s graduates find jobs and, while some employers are still running recruitment programmes online, the fact remains that there are thousands fewer jobs this year. Government support to incentivise and grow paid internships would benefit both graduates and employers, creating impactful opportunities for these young people and supporting the economic recovery,” Professor Buckingham added.


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