Graduate unemployment is at an all-time high. When the three major parties meet for their respective conferences this month, they must pledge to invest more in apprenticeships and to drop the ludicrous aim of sending at least 50% of all young people to university.
The coalition has done a fantastic job in promoting work-based learning. But now David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg must pledge to go further for the future of our country and our young people. This month's party conferences are an opportunity to do exactly that.
Of the 230,000 people that graduated in 2011/12, almost 10% were unemployed six months later. Too many young people are accumulating more than £30,000 debt studying for non-academic degrees at poorly regarded institutions without increasing their prospects for employment.
Demand for graduate jobs out-strips supply. The abundance of degrees from poorly regarded institutions serves only to inflate the price of tuition for those that university really is for: individuals who are academically talented and that want to fulfill their potential, regardless of their background or ability to pay.
Young people should be encouraged to go to university only if they qualify for an academically rigorous degree at a leading institution. However, in some instances, even these academically talented individuals may in fact be better suited to a high level apprenticeship. It is important they are given such an opportunity and are provided with the necessary information with which to make an informed decision. They should not feel stigmatized for selecting in-work training over a degree.
Similarly, young people who are not academic should not feel they have to go to university because it is the de facto route. Differing strengths and ambitions among our young people should be embraced and fostered, rather than constrained and suffocated.
Young people go to university in the belief that securing a degree will lead to improved employment prospects and a stronger chance of achieving their full potential. For many young people, university is the right path, but for others alternative forms of education are more suitable.
Those wishing to specialize in vocational disciplines should be encouraged to take up work-based learning as the most effective route to employment. This route will provide them with opportunities to earn money whilst developing valuable skills that are essential to the British economy.
As the proportion of young people going to university decreases, in turn, more funding will be available to invest in apprenticeships. In the longer-term, policy-makers would be given the opportunity to reduce the cost of university tuition. The percentage of written off student loans would also be reduced, creating savings for the Exchequer. As increasing numbers of young people find work, tax revenues will increase; fewer young people will become welfare dependent, thus reducing the welfare bill. As the workforce becomes more highly skilled, productivity will increase leading to an expansion in GDP.
A re-balancing of our education provision, away from a 'university or bust' approach, is fundamental to the long-term success of our society.
All in all, a more balanced and sustainable economy would be created, in which jobs requiring academic rigour were filled, where a wider cross-section of other jobs were created and where a greater percentage of the UK's young population were in work, earning money and gaining the skills required by them as individuals to set them on their way to a successful career.
Overall, such re-balancing of our education system beyond the age of 18 would create a raft of economic benefits for the country and an abundance of positive social impacts when it comes to the well-being of the younger generation.
This month provides the party leaders with a perfect opportunity to reaffirm this message. A re-balancing of our education provision, away from a 'university or bust' approach, is fundamental to the long-term success of our society.