The Lost Generation?

We’re told this morning that we face a ‘lost generation of wasted talent’, because 40,000 ‘well-qualified’ school leavers are likely to be turned down by UK universities. The claim comes from a ‘think-tank’, million+ (no, I’d never heard of them either). The BBC invited a representative from million+, together with the director of the Russell Group of universities on their news programme this morning, who claimed that by 2020 half of all jobs in the UK would demand the high skills which degree-qualified students possess.

Well, that would be a balanced debate then: million+ represents 28 ‘new’ universities, and the Russell Group represents the old ones. Predictably, they both wanted more university places to be offered to meet he record demand – well over half a million applications this year. Well, of course they do. The Higher Education sector is big business in this country, and you’ve got to keep feeding the machine.

But let’s examine these two claims. A ‘lost generation of wasted talent’ implies, by elimination, that young people who don’t apply to university are talentless oiks. Worse, it further implies that it’s only universities that can develop such talent. Rubbish. As inventor James Dyson said this week, ‘some people are academically inclined, some vocationally and we shouldn’t penalise the latter. It can make them feel of less value and less intelligent, and I don’t think that’s true. ‘

Well said that man. It would have made for a far more balanced debate had Dyson, or someone from the Edge Foundation (who campaign for better vocational alternatives to academic programmes) on telly.

And where do people pull stats like ‘half of all jobs in 2020’ from? No-one even knows what half of future jobs are going to look like in ten years time. But I’d bet upon one thing – we’ll have an increasing number of graduates not being able to find jobs in the field they studied. Why? Because of the growing phenomenon of ‘Knowledge Process Outsourcing’ (KPO). It’s estimated that, next year, $17 bn worth of high-level knowledge tasks globally will be outsourced – mainly to India. It’s not just call centre work that Indian graduates can do. Finance, legal, IT, design are among some of the specialisms now available remotely through sites like Elance – and all at considerably cheaper rates than lowly-paid new recruits can work for in this country.

So, can we please take a bit of pressure of kids to automatically apply to university as the only route worth following? Not least because all of that pressure backs up, on parents (who think there is no alternative) and schools (who have to strive for better and better A-level results) So, it’s no wonder that the new diplomas are struggling to get a foothold in schools.

Edge have, this week, launched a YouTube campaign this week to get the views of young people themselves (see below). If you know any who have views, get ’em to post a video!

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