19/08/2011 12:06 BST | Updated 19/10/2011 06:12 BST

Lack Of Careers Advice Leaves Students In The Dark

The thousands missing out on university places this September will be left without a clue how to tackle their future after being denied the necessary careers advice - with even more cuts to come.

As more than five students were vying for each university clearing place on Thursday, many will have been left thinking “What now?”.

According to unions, students are not receiving the necessary careers advice informing them of alternative options to university at school, and now Connexions, the career service for young people is being scrapped, with some centres already closed.

Last month, Education Secretary Michael Gove said no extra funds would be put aside for career services, while major cuts to council careers services are currently being implemented.

The County Council of Hampshire alone has approved £4m of youth service cuts, along with axing 140 youth worker and Connexions posts.

Careers advisers say a significant number of students are not aware of the range of options available to them if they failed to get a place at university. And after Labour's target of sending 50 per cent of all school-leavers to university, many believe a degree is the only path ahead in life.

Bob Walker, Careers Adviser for Ucas, said: “One of the calls I answered yesterday was from a student who hadn’t got the grades he needed. We explored a whole range of different possibilities and he went away with options he wasn’t aware existed before our conversation.”

But the helpline is only open for 10 days across the A-level and GCSE results period, and with the Ucas website crashing at 8.30am on Thursday, many were unable to get the guidance they needed.

Molly Peshel, a student who spent seven hours trying to speak to a Ucas advisor, said: “The phone lines cut me off, the website was down, I had no clearing number and felt so depressed as I couldn’t do anything. It’s an absolute joke.”

The lack of advice given to pupils before they leave school has previously been highlighted by Unison. John Richards, senior national officer for the public services union said: “If the government presses ahead with these plans, students will be left struggling and young people will fail to get the guidance they desperately need.”

Maudie Powell-Tuck works for a careers information site for 16-24 year-olds looking for apprenticeships and placements who help bridge the gap between school leavers and employers.

She said: “We have students complaining the level of careers support in their school is non-existent. You see increasing amounts of students desperate for help and turning to places like Yahoo Q&A to get careers advice. They haven’t got the basic knowledge needed to look for jobs. They desperately need more impartial advice and to be made aware of other career options.

“When it comes to lower middle to middle classes, the general rule is that getting into university is everything. It might be the case that students believe if you don’t perform well in exams and don’t get into university then you can’t have a successful career.”

She added: “Schools have little incentive to make their students employable. School life is ruled by academic- not employability- league tables. The whole furore around slashing the budget for the Connexions service has created a great amount of confusion. Leaving it up to the schools to provide careers advice is a mistake.”

One-in-eight employers offers on-the-job training schemes nationwide, and many are reluctant to take on school leavers. The majority of job applicants, and indeed even many unpaid internships, specify only those with degrees may apply.

Deloitte is one of the few companies to accept school-leavers direct onto their training schemes. Every year, they offer 100 places on their BrightStart scheme, which accepts young people from the age of 16 and has the prospect of a full-time career with Deloitte.

A spokesperson for Deloitte said: “We don’t necessarily look for work experience. We value life experience, the commitment to work hard and an interest in the business sector.”

A DfE spokesman said: “Young people need good quality careers advice – but the sad fact is that too much provision at the moment is poor quality and patchy.

“We make no apologies for giving schools responsibility for providing independent, impartial careers advice. They know their students best - so it’s right they should decide what provision is right and that they have complete control over their budgets to buy in the face-to-face support that pupils need."