Jane McConnell, News Editor
Student Direct:Mancunion, 16th November 2009
FUTURE JOBS IN A POST-RECESSION economy will require a workforce with a high skill set, according to predictions made by Gordon Brown during a Q&A session in Manchester.
People will need to have graduated from higher education or at least have an equivalent qualification, whether these are apprenticeships, diplomas or varied skills that move the individual beyond their secondary school education.
Interestingly, Brown linked these concerns to the rising Eastern economies in China and India, and how UK graduates will need the ability to cope with a changed marketplace. “We set a target that in 2020, 80 per cent will have at least a college education or an apprenticeship qualification.” Brown emphasised: “We’re competing with the best in the world.”
Yet, a high degree of optimism pervaded the session despite challenging questions from the floor about an increase in the glut of the unemployed young. “Although we’re coming through a recession,” said the Prime Minister, “there will be jobs. For people under 25, we can guarantee that we will have jobs for them.”
“If you have half the population going to university and you earn … you should contribute towards it.”
Brown claimed that at present 300,000 young people, including graduates, are moving out of unemployment every month, even though the latest figures released by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU) suggest that the number of graduates leaving university without a job has increased by 44 per cent in the past year. The Prime Minister was keen to pre-empt any questions about the issue and said that Labour aimed to “increase number of people at universities and we’ve developed this idea of internships. We need to shift graduate unemployment.”
The internships would last for six months, styled around the work-experience model but with pay. It is hoped this scheme would alleviate the burden placed on graduates who would have to claim Jobseeeker’s Allowance when they are not able to walk into full-time employment immediately after leaving university.
“I don’t want people to leave university, not get a job and still have these debts.” Brown reiterated that he did not want graduates to have to pay back immediately, only when they earn enough, which is current Labour policy. Once graduates leave university on a salary above the £15,000 threshold, they are expected to pay back their student loans in monthly instalments based on what can be afforded in proportion to what is earned. Brown said: “If you have half the population going to university and you earn … you should contribute towards it.” He went on to describe the ideal situation where “the cost should be shared between the government, the student and the parent.”
Given the recent fears for a hike in tuition fees after the next general election, it is questionable as to whether the Government can guarantee that high street banks will charge low interest rates should students need to borrow more money to pay for tuition fees, either from the state or the banks directly. Brown had previously spoken at the Council for Industry and Higher Education and said that banks were certainly receptive to the idea. Although it may be a matter of waiting to see what is prescribed for next year’s undergraduates, graduates and young adult learners.
However, plans to slash the plus-19 training budget by at least £100 million– which includes Career Development loans and Adult Apprentices – were leaked by The Observer the weekend after Brown made his Manchester appearance. The leaked document was sent by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to Business Secretary Lord Mandelson.