Letting everyone into university will only delay the youth unemployment crisis.


By Derek W Gardiner

Despite over a century of evidence that an objective examination is the best way of assessing school pupils and the possibility of holding exams in June or July with social distancing (in exam halls, desks are normally more than 2 metres apart) in empty schools, our government decided to opt for something different with the expected disastrous results. Despite all the talk of schools taking priority over pubs, the schools remained empty while the pubs were full and teachers were entrusted with providing predicted grades which would form the basis of pupils results. Naturally in the age of box-ticking, quotas and bureaucracy, this led to A*s for all because no teacher would want to let their school's reputation down. A computer algorithm was then employed in an attempt to tackle pupils from poorer areas getting good grades and quite rightly, met with a backlash in Scotland. Instead of immediately putting the brakes on releasing the A-level and GCSE results in England, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson did precisely nothing, one wonders if he was even watching the news a week before. In England as a whole, 40% of school pupils had their grades downgraded but not a single grade from Eton was changed.


As is natural with this government, they were forced into a massive U-turn after protests from parents and pupils, teachers predicted grades will now be the only ones that count. At GCSE 27% of pupils were awarded A grades and 78% of GCSE's were passed (up from 69% last year). Universities who had made conditional offers based on attainment at A-level normally do not expect all pupils to meet these conditions. Now they face being overwhelmed by the demand for places. While the cap on places has been lifted, universities will still be limited by physical space (especially with social distancing) and a lack of accommodation. Universities are considering restarting the admissions process from scratch but this would be impractical as most of them could not afford to go a full year with no new students.


I suspect the real reason that the government wants so many school pupils to go to university is to keep them out of the jobs market for a few more years. With job vacancies at a record low and areas such as hospitality and retail, which are the biggest employers of young people, have been hit hardest by the pandemic. But is it a wise idea to encourage young people to get themselves into tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt with no guarantee of a well-paid job at the end of it. While graduates still earn more on average across their working lives than non-graduates, this is largely dependant on the course they study, with those who study medicine and STEM subjects coming out on top and those who study creative arts subjects making a net loss over the course of their working lives. Many graduates who study so-called "Micky Mouse degrees" end up in jobs that have nothing to do with their degrees. These jobs may not exist in three or four years time due to automation and the shrinkage of the retail and hospitality sectors because of coronavirus. This is just kicking the can further down the road with successive years of graduates joining the dole queue.


What is really needed is more options for school leavers rather than simply going to university and hoping for the best once they leave. Not everyone is academically minded and some would rather just go into work. Young people need to be given more options for training outside of universities such as apprenticeships, some of which should be moved online. Deregulation and the removal of barriers to entry into certain professions is also long overdue. You shouldn't need a degree to be a police officer, you should need a fit and healthy body and a bit of common sense. Likewise, you shouldn't need a degree to be a nurse or a primary school teacher, just some on the job training instead.


Young people also need to be taught to aspire to start their own businesses and manage their own lives rather than being content to be dependant on others. This will allow them to create jobs for their fellow young people and alleviate the youth unemployment crisis. Letting everyone into university is nothing but a quick-fix solution. More root and branch reform is needed.