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Posts Tagged ‘education’

The lost generation: why Britain’s young people have no hope of a bright future

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It is a frustrating time to be a young Brit today. But the mounting frustration I feel, being lucky enough to have a job and working towards a career, must be exponentially worse for those without work, without money and losing hope.

It wasn’t always like this, or so I’m told. But the halcyon days of old are no longer. The youth of today are screwed.

The first problem is education. Degrees have become a penny a dozen, not in financial terms, but in aspirational terms. If every job needs a degree then the majority of young people have to go into debt simply to have any hope of getting a job.

A huge number of young people now have degrees, but if everyone has a degree then it isn’t an advantage, it is simply a debt. If no one had a degree then the job market would be exactly the same. We have massively devalued our education system. This is because of market forces in the education system.

The next problem is the housing market. My mum bought her first house for £15,000 back in the 80s. She tells me that although her salary has trebled, her flat is now worth almost £300,000.

How on earth are young people meant to get a mortgage? When my mum was earning 10k a year her mortgage was a year-and-halfs wages. If you wanted a mortgage on her house while earning £20,000 it would pan out at 20 years wages. Young people are being denied mortgages, their right to property trodden on by market forces.

The people being given mortgages are the property owners. This means that as they expend their property empires, they force myriad young people into permanently renting, costing them hundreds of thousands of pounds, yet leaving them nothing to show for it.

Another problem employment. Where are the jobs that school children were so earnestly promised by schoolteachers when they graduated? Neither here nor there. This is of course, due to market forces.

There are now over a million young people unemployed, with no hope of owning property because they can’t get a career in order to get the money to invest in a house.

The economic situation has instilled such fears in employers that even if there was a 99% chance that taking on more staff would be profitable, they won’t. The big business owners have gone for damage limitation, which in real English, means reducing their costs to keep their profits.

But, young people of Britain, don’t dispair, because it is not your fault. In fact it isn’t your government’s fault, nor your parent’s fault. It’s the economy stupid.

It is in fact the wool being pulled over our eyes. Austerity has failed this country, it has put us into another recession, left millions unemployed, ruined the moral of millions more, destroyed the hopes and aspirations of the next generation of this country.

We are told that market forces i.e. the recession, is responsible for this. But the market was created by us, and why would the chancellor pronounce an annual budget if we couldn’t have effect it?

We do have an impact on it, but that is directed away from the young people, the needy and the disabled.

Yet we do nothing. We barely even vote anymore. This has led to some of the disparity that exists in our country because politics is all about voters. The majority of home owners vote, whereas a majority of renters don’t. Work it out, political parties hoping to be in government preach to the home owners and the business owners, the people who vote. It may have started as a trickle, but as politicians started to care less about young people, they stopped voting, so the government cared less, and fewer young people voted. And on it went ad infinitum until we get what we have today, a government that protects the vested interests of the rich because the young poor don’t vote.

It is not just the economy, it is our fault too. Pensioners still receive their free bus passes and tv licences because they are the highest voting demographic. Big businesses receive better deals and billionaire CEOs get lower tax rates, because they not only vote, but fund political campaigns.

Our politicians see young people as hoodies, rioters and lazy. Until now we have been too scared to be or do anything different. If we have jobs we want to keep them, and if we don’t we still have this hope, drilled into us at a young age, that our lives will be like our parent’s.

This is a myth. We won’t have state pensions, many of us won’t have jobs. As pensionable ages get higher this will stop new, younger workers entering the system and it will get worse and worse. There is no growth strategy (except if you count helping businesses and millionaires grow their own profits), no safety net and as I see it the only hope is to make our voices heard.

We have been institutionalised to believe that the system will look after us. It worked for our parents, our parent’s parents and their parents before them. It won’t work for us. If we go on hoping that getting our grades will get us a job which will get us a mortgage we are letting ourselves be cheated by a system representing the few.

I am not saying that young are the only demographic to suffer, god knows what’s being inflicted on the old, disabled and public sector is inhumane to say the least. But it is the young people who have to stand up for themselves, ourselves, if anything is going to change.

We must make our jobs, we must make our money and we must make our hope.

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More Students Working Could Impact on the Student Experience

A little publicised but extremely relevant report has managed to slide through most of the UK’s media, yet it’s findings could have a massive impact on the future of English higher education policy.

The report in question is: The Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU) Futuretrack Stage 3 report. This is a study following the 2006 cohort of 130,000 UCAS applicants from when they sent off their application until they enter their first job. The report is a fascinating source of information concerning the behaviour, expectations, aspirations, obstacles and feelings of a whole generation of students, and yet it has barely been mentioned in the media or in government press releases.

In light of recent events, namely the tripling of university tuition fees, the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and the massive cuts to university funding, this report should have been drawn upon, even if only to be used by the press to tear holes in the governments proposals. But news of Futuretrack has been scant on the ground.

The report is important for four reasons:

  • It tells us that on average more students are likely to be in employment in their last year of university than in their first;
  • That the number of hours they were doing paid work – on average – has increased;
  • It outlines students reasons for undertaking more work;
  • And it reinforces the idea that undertaking paid employment can have a on a students social life, economic situation and their expected results.

The fact that more students on average are forced in to paid employment by their third and final year of uni is ambiguous. Obviously when students first arrive at university they have a large student loan, a varying concept of the value of money and no links to local employers. As they go through university more will naturally pick up jobs. But the fact that third year is the most important should mean that more students should be leaving employment to concentrate on their finals. Futuretrack shows this is not the case, with both male and female students showing a tendency to be working almost four hours more a week in their final year. The main reasons given for this were to pay for increasing living and leisure costs or to get the necessary work experience for a foot in the door to a relevant employment sector.

This on it’s own is sad – it shows that the value of an academic education has been replaced by the business model of relevant experience driving the employment sector. Obviously students are heeding the message and fear that they may be left behind because others who do have the necessary work experience will have an advantage. However this is contradicted by institutions like Oxford and Cambridge, and other Russell Group universities who tell their students not to work. Students leaving these esteemed institutions are less likely to have trouble finding work than those who did get relevant work experience whilst at university, despite the fact that they may have little no work experience. It seems the business and university models of how best to get that first job are at odds.

The most interesting part of the study was the idea that students working can have an educational and socio-economic impact on their future. Although the report admits it is too early to investigate actual positive and negative effects, it does state that: “Students working long hours were more likely to be dissatisfied with various aspects of their courses, to predict lower grades for themselves than those who worked less and to participate in less other extra-curricular activities.”

Taking this altogether, it seems that students from the elite universities, which have more ways of raising money and supporting their students so they need not work, and can therefore get better grades. One would think that those who had worked would naturally have gained the experience to match the higher grades of these institutions, but no. It seems that getting relevant work experience only makes a difference if you are competing for a job with someone not from a Russell Group university. Sadly this has always been the case, so why do I grumble now?

I grumble now because with university fees set to triple a much wider gap is going to open between those institutions that can afford to support their students and those who can’t. It is my humble opinion, along with Higher Education Policy Institutes (HEPI) that very soon all the universities will be charging £9,000. The scheme has been set up as a market, and as such many universities will aim to match the highest fees to keep up with their competitors. There has been a lot of research on the governments claims of how a market driven higher education sector will improve participation, be more progressive and save the tax-payer money. Most notably by the HEPI, who said the plans had some “hugely optimistic assumptions”; and the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) who reported that the plans could be “too complicated.” As Professor Roger Black, co-director of the Centre of Higher Education Research Development (CHERD) pointed out on Tuesday, proponents of the plans are falling back on the claim that increasing fees will improve quality by making universities improve standards or lose business. As he goes on to say, when picking their institutions, “it is prestige that is usually chosen, which has little or nothing to do with quality. In short, far from being an indicator of quality, price is a substitute for it.”

In this case, those students who fall into a similar demographic to those who now work because of fear of debt will be in even less of a bargaining position when looking for their first job. Under the new system I can see a lower tier where the final year students all have jobs, due to the massive rise in living expenses and fear of debt, whilst top institutions can help struggling students and very few of them take on gainful employment.

The last thing I want to touch is how these finding impact on the student experience. A few lines here and there in the media have mentioned how tripling fees will only fill the void left by cuts in public sector funding. What hasn’t received much press is how raising tuition fees will change the university experience. With fees tripling, but no improvement in education standards, it seems a bit rich to ask students to pay through the nose for the same system their predecessors paid only a fraction of the costs for, and our present politicians paid absolutely nothing for. If fees hikes are here to stay – and it looks like they are – then something has to be done by the government to improve the quality of education, which sadly wont be done because they would have to use some the funding they are desperate to save. When I approached AMOSSHE – the body responsible for the student experience – for a comment back in November, they politely refused. This implies to me that although students will be paying more, the standards will remain the same.

It is a scary time for students, and with private companies beginning to charge over £300 per week for student accommodation in London (I know Unite charges £100+ a week in Bristol, well above the usual cost of a private flat) the increase in the cost of living is going to hit students hard.

All this would be very sad, and really would take the value out of the educational experience itself, putting the value instead on the establishment in question. I feel this violates the raison d’etre of the UK’s higher education system, and would be a tragedy if it indeed came to this. If it matters more which institution you got your degree from, than the grade, or whether you have relevant work experience, then it will be a very sad day for the academic future of our country. As Brown says in the article mentioned above: “the new regime poses a real threat to quality assurance. We now face an increase in both state and market regulation, which will almost certainly increase compliance costs without any corresponding gains in quality.”

Birmingham University Involved in Reconstructive Collaboration (case study published in University Business January issue)

The University of Birmingham has undertaken it’s most ambitious reconstruction in 30 years in partnership with Berkshire Consultancy Ltd.

Working towards creating five distinct university colleges by 2010 from the existing 19 subject based schools, the University aimed to create a more stable and flexible business foundation to meet the commercial pressures arising in the sector whilst retaining growth in research and postgraduate study.

The project, which was completed early last year, was initiated in 2005 as part of five year business plan. working in close cooperation with Berkshire Consultancy Ltd (BCL).

Heading the structural change programme was the People and Organisation Development Team (POD), led by Sally Worth, which is a division of the University’s Human Resources Team at the University.

In order to design and implement the new management and operational structure POD cooperated with BCL to design a bespoke programme that tailored to the unique needs of the institutions academic, non-academic, managerial and non-managerial staff.

Worth commented that they brought BCL into the restructuring programme because of their experience and the fact that their team: “demonstrated a commitment to understanding our specific needs from the word go.”

Both parties understood the potential upheaval the project could cause, and therefore undertook a needs analysis with 30 key stakeholders looking to maximise the transference of key skills and knowledge at every stage.

Two workshop stands were initiated in advance of the programme, which allowed staff of all levels to attend flexible events as and when the developments affected them. These workshops focused on providing the practical and psychological support for both managers and staff to maximise the benefits of the new structure and ensure that they had the skills needed to design and translate the changes in to local college specific perspective.

BCL and POD made sure all information was available before, during and after the restructuring process. At the end of the period BCL began a handover stage to in-house personnel, so the University’s staff could continue to provide support into the future.

According to both parties the development has gone ahead without major upheaval. Therese Turner, Account Director of the BCL team stated that: “Now the new structure is in place and all staff are pulling in the same direction. Birmingham University is now well placed to cope with new challenges facing the eduction sector.

Worth commented that the transition to the new structure was extremely smooth and added: “Rather than worry about the change, we have experienced a real buy-in from staff and excitement about the new structure.”

The Pro Bono Approach (feature published in University Business Jauary Issue)

It has never been unusual for students take part in voluntary or pro bono work, even if it is just to add some vital experience to their CV’s.

In a market with an ever increasing amount of graduates for a limited number of positions having hands-on experience on leaving university can have a massive influence on employers hiring decisions. What is more unusual is the way that some universities are now integrating this work into their curriculum.

The University of West England runs a legal clinic, Community Legal Advice and Representation Service (CLARS), in conjunction with the Citizens Advice Bureau. Over 200 students work with a team of academics to interview and advise locals on a range of legal issues.

Heading the project is Marcus Keppell-Palmer who has spoken exclusively to University Business regarding the integration of this scheme in to their course.

Mr Keppell-Palmer stated that UWE has recognised the value of incorporating work within students degrees and that they are hoping to incorporate more placements into the course structure.

He continues, saying that: “students who work in our Street Law project and in our Innocence project my use their experience as the basis of their year-long placement in our Law in Action placement module.”

Any student on the Barristers Course can claim a module of work if they work enough cases through CLARS..

They are not the only institution beginning to put practical placements on to the curriculum. The University of Birmingham has recently extended it’s Free legal Advice Group (FLAG), and at Oxford Brookes they are beginning to add one day a week placements to the accountancy course.

The Accounting for Charities: Engaging Students (ACES) scheme was launched in January 2010 between Brookes and Oxfordshire Community and Voluntary Action (OCVA), and it puts second year undergraduates into local charities to run their books.

Catherine Dilnot, senior lecturer at the Business School, has told University Business that the project has now been approved as an independent study module, incorporated into the BSc Accounting and Finance.

Whilst students currently participate in these schemes out of the goodness of their hearts and for their CV’s, but as more and more universities start to create links with both NPOs and private businesses it seems likely that more placements could be integrated in to degree courses.

 

Big Green Week (feature published in University Business December Issue)

The University of Leicester have been supporting energy saving week and pledging their commitment to reduce their carbon emissions this month by staging it’s biggest ever environmental festival – The Big Green Week 2010.

Held over the 25-31st October, Big Green Week was a festival of events to show the University’s support to the Government’s aim of reducing the UK emissions of CO2 by 60 percent.

Although it carried a serious message, Big Green Week was a fun and friendly event, intending to bring people together behind the cause. The main message was sustainability, be it in eating or travelling, or even in the home.

The main exhibit was the Carbon Cube, a 8.24m³ cube of scaffolding and mesh representing the space taken up by a metric ton of CO2, on view at the heart of campus. The Carbon Cube was a life-size monument of the amount of the stuff we pump into the atmosphere.

Environmental Manager, Dr Emma Fieldhouse commented that reactions to the exhibit were polarised: “many people were impressed with the visual representation of the tonne of carbon dioxide and others appeared to not want to know what their own impacts could be.”

Visitors to the Carbon Cube were encouraged to take part in a carbon footprint calculation, with every participants name entered into a prize draw to potentially win one of a range of prizes. There were five carbon footprint stations around campus for the week, the most notable being the mobile rickshaw darting around the campus.

Each day of the week had a different theme, beginning with Monday’s ‘use less energy’. Kicking off the week was a debate on climate change. Tuesday and Wednesday’s eating and travelling sustainability events included a local food fayre and a bicycle workshop. Thursday focused on recycling, but the main event was to culminate on the Friday.

Students and visitors came together to spell UoL Goes Green in Victoria Park. Setting people up in formation, the message could be read from roofs and this year the Big Green Statement was intended to be bigger and more powerful than any made previously.

Every day the Big Switch Off was set up at 6pm, for people to come and pledge to switch of as many appliances as possible with the aim of saving not just the environment, but also the climate. Around the Big Green Week 2007 there was a massive reduction in electricity use, with the University itself estimating its saving at £60,000. This year they continued to encourage all visitors to get behind this scheme and help attain even more fantastic results.

Running throughout the week was the open air photography exhibition, Hard Rain. Viewed by at least 15 million people in over 100 venues worldwide, this is Mark Edwards’ photographic illustration of the Bob Dylan song ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’. On Wednesday the 27th Mark himself performed a presentation for free of his famous exhibit.

Environmental groups applauded the work done that week, which was sponsored by the WWF. A spokesperson for the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges stated: “the EAUC fully supports the work that Leicester do and is excited by the innovative approach.”

 

Comment on Privatisation of Universities in the UK

It has been a momentous few months for the higher education sector. Rumours flying, numbers crunching and minds racing. But the key question seems to be where tuition fees will be capped.

It would suit the top universities in the UK to be able to charge whatever they fancy, and with the publication of Oxford Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Hamilton’s letter it made it very clear that in order to ease the black hole in funding that the 40 percent cuts would lead to fees must be set at around £8,000. Any addition to this would be a bonus, but with Browne proposing levies on fees above £7,000, universities if left to their own devices might look to start charging fees on a par with the US Ivy League.

Another option being toyed with by universities is privatisation. The London School of Economics was involved in a case of crossed wires with its Student Union over its review of the merits of privatisation. If universities drop out of the Higher Education Funding Council of England then they will be able to charge students whatever they please and not have to cooperate with HEFCE regulations. Again it looks like many of the top universities in the UK see the CSR as an opportunity to rise to the heights of the Ivy League universities like Yale and Harvard.

Many businesses will be gleefully rubbing their hands together at the prospect of private universities. In going private many universities will have to out-source funding from investors, and this would be an opportunity for big business to get their hands on share not only of the high tuition fees it is likely private institutions would charge, but to take their pick of the best candidates emerging from these institutions, or even to set teaching and research priorities. GlaxoSmithKline have recently set a up a partnership course at the University of Nottingham, in name to provide practical and industry standard pharmaceutical training for third year students in and out of the laboratory. In effect it will allow GSK to weed out the best students, but it is also a free pool of labour. With students doing pharmaceutical research in to the drugs GSK are producing, the company benefits from having the university doing its research for it.

Small institutions will be just as eager as the big ones to secure private funding, but for the opposite reason, staying in business, compared to maximising business.

What scares me the most is the idea that academics will have to have their agendas and research proposals approved for funding by private investors. This, I feel, might compromise the intellectual integrity of academic research world-wide.