Counting the graduates in the dole queue, it’s clear that our system isn’t serving the young, says Claire French

Last summer, tens of thousands of young people fresh out of school went straight onto the dole. Student loans were paid late, occasionally months after the autumn semester began. By all accounts, it’s going to be worse this year. With increased numbers of applicants and an under-cut of 10,000 university places by the coalition government, there is severe competition.

Having graduated this summer, I too am feeling the pressure of swathes of graduates leaving university with a respectable degree and no job. Finding myself with no other option than signing onto job seekers allowance while looking for employment, I find myself wondering how we have reached a state where so many young people – having attended university or not – having no other option than to look to the welfare state for help?

Higher education would supposedly become more accessible and universal after the introduction of top-top fees near the beginning of the Labour administration. In reality from applying for university places through UCAS to landing their first job – many young adults are now fighting harder than has been fought before. The threat of soaring youth unemployment is leading to what some commentators call the “lost generation”.

With the projected number of young people missing out on a university place this Thursday standing at around 150,000, it is time to seriously question the new Labour 50% university target. Educating the future workforce to a highly competitive standard is obviously important for the economy and our global position. At this time of austerity, is not feasible for hundreds of thousands of young people to be signing on to job seekers allowance because they cannot afford to take a gap year, or because they leave university with no other option.

The further education system over emphasises the importance of a university degree. The Labour party continues to predict that 40% of jobs will be filled by graduates by 2020. Those who are less than taken by the idea of being indebted suffer from the current lack of apprenticeships and unskilled work. 

An undergraduate university degree is no longer a foot-in-the-door in today’s tough labour market. As areas of the private sector begin to advertise for more graduate jobs than last year, the public sector is tightening its belt – with huge redundancies being made and cuts to department budgets around the country.

The Guardian last week reported that only “36% of final-year students expect to find a graduate-level job this summer”. High numbers of graduates from some institutions are left out of work and not in education for more than six months after leaving university (up to one in four).

For many university leavers, a degree is not enough to land a paid, graduate-level job. Employers expect candidates to have skills and knowledge that is best demonstrated through previous work experience. For individuals without well-connected parents this can be a battlefield.

Internships – an increasingly popular form of learning in the professional workplace – pose a number of problems, foremost because many remain unpaid. Firstly, the majority of placements are located in London. Secondly, the nature of ‘the internship’ is to provide free labour to an employer in return for training. For applicants who need to pay for travel, accommodation and other outgoings this poses a problem. Campaigns such as Intern Aware and Internocracy work for fairer conditions, including a wage for interns.

Worldwide, the outlook for people aged between 15 and 24 years old is bleak. The global youth unemployment rate is sitting at 13%, 81 million people in real terms. It’s a big number that we need to address, and the current system just can’t cope.

Claire French is an aspiring journalist and writes at

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3 Responses to “Counting the graduates in the dole queue, it’s clear that our system isn’t serving the young, says Claire French”

  1. AmberStar says:

    “For many university leavers, a degree is not enough to land a paid, graduate-level job.”

    This has almost always been the case, if you were a graduate without connections. ‘You’ve never had it so good’ certainly described the New Labour era in terms of graduate level positions for newly qualified students.

    I shook my head in disbelief as young people either didn’t vote, or like Christmas turkeys, voted for Cameron or Clegg. They don’t know what they’re voting for; why can’t they see through the media hype & realise that Labour are the only party that gives a damn about them?

    What did they think would happen when the parties of unfettered, free-market forces were ushered in to cut, privatise, outsource & off-shore everything?

    Labour must offer an alternative vision for both the public & private sector. And to our young graduates I say, don’t get fooled again by Tories & LibDems making promises that they have no intention of keeping. 😎

  2. Edward Carlsson Browne says:

    There’s no point talking about 50% university attendance rate until we can start to approach 50% of jobs requiring a degree. We need to lower our sights a little and concentrate on increasing the number of graduate roles (especially as we’ll need to keep moving further up the value chain as India and the developing world become more competitive in the services sector). And we need to make sure that those people going to university are representative of the youth as a whole.

    If we’re serious about social mobility, we need to make sure that bright working-class kids go to uni, but we also need to make sure they’re replacing dumber rich kids. Not everybody can be comfortably middle-class. We can’t be a meritocracy when the old-boy network lets unqualified middle-class kids glide through into a comfortable middle-class existence.

  3. Cheryl says:

    Prices for higher education in the UK are sky-high and most of young people who dream of college degree should apply for student loans. Basically, getting approved for a loan is not that hard so you can get money and pay for the education. But I think that finding a job after graduation is much more serious challenge. There are lots of employees who want to fire people who already have an impressive job experience and don’t want to spend time for teaching someone. The UK job market is in a tough situation, despite relative economic stability lots of people are unemployed and live through online payday loans. In case a person attends college that there should be a guarantee of employment, otherwise how is it possible to pay off a student loan?

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