THE BLOG

The Economy's Picking Up a Pace - And So Must Our Vigor to Reform a Failed System

13/05/2014 10:57 BST | Updated 12/07/2014 10:59 BST

We've made great progress in reforming further and higher education in the UK over the last four years. However the job is far from done, it would be wrong to think now our country's economic fortunes have turned a corner, that we can afford to take our foot off the gas.

The UK's education provision for school leavers needed a fundamental rebalancing when the coalition government took office because the university or bust approach had failed.

Worthless degrees were being handed out in their droves, employers weren't being supplied with the candidates they required and graduates were being left to rot in the dole queues. In the same way conflict has produced radical technological advancements in the past, the recession gave Britain the energy and enthusiasm for sweeping policy reforms to tackle the economic and social challenges of our age; not least welfare and education.

Times of trouble can be just the incentive required for innovation and a review of preconceived ideas. Tanks, planes, rockets and atom bombs were just some of the military breakthroughs made as a result of the World Wars in the first half of the Twentieth Century. Similarly, yet significantly cheerier, the reform and promotion of apprenticeships, triggered by eye watering youth unemployment figures, has led to work-based learning being deemed as the viable, robust and respected alternatives to university degrees.

Although we have not yet done enough. Far from it, the vigor for reform has to survive the economic upturn, not only for the sake of our economy, but for the sake of the next generation.

Britain is still reeling from the last government's ludicrous policy of sending at least 50 percent of school leavers to university, a move that disregarded the demands of the labour market and the suitability of an academic degree for many professions. It is the underlying state policy that left the under-25s so exposed to the worst of the banking crisis. It left one million in the dole queues and many more straddled by debt and trapped in under-employment.

We've taken some steps in the right direction. But it will take at least another decade to right the wrongs of the past, a decade in which we must remain resolute and stay the course.

Politicians of all colours should get behind the apprenticeship revolution, they must back it whole-heartedly in their manifestos for the next election.

They must drag the old guard, kicking and screaming if needs be, into the real world; a world in which Britain matches Germany's varied and rigorous education provision and prepares its young people for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

Not a world in which there is just one path to success.