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Recent graduate Hannah Boland on how young people see their futures

PUBLISHED: 13:06 03 October 2014 | UPDATED: 16:18 23 March 2015

Hannah, left, with a fellow graduate at Leeds. Photo: Stan Boland

Hannah, left, with a fellow graduate at Leeds. Photo: Stan Boland

Stan Boland

Before the rat race, there’s the education race, so how do young people see their futures? Knotty Green recent graduate Hannah Boland gives her view

So often the media paint ‘young people’ as irresponsible, disrespectful and drunk. TV producers churn out more and more programmes about ‘young people’, but ignore the real problems facing those between 18 and 24, the group most hit by recent rises in fees and cuts in education.

Employers are getting more demanding, the age when we’ll finally be able to own our own home continues to creep up, and support networks are breaking down. The world is not the same as it was 30 years ago and it’s time that the older generation recognised this change.

Nowadays people born in the 80s and 90s are expected to have a degree, with graduate status becoming almost the norm. This is evident in recent figures. Since 2000 there has been a 17% rise in the number of undergraduate students, with the total number of graduates in the UK now equalling 12 million.

You must go to uni

Schools all over the UK are pushing their students into university. Claire Yau, a recent law graduate, sees this as having a negative impact on many students. “A lot of people are more practically minded, but the only route provided by schools is to go into university,” she says. “The guidance we were given at school was poor.”

Buckinghamshire is not immune to this lack of guidance and some of our own schools are taking the same short-sighted approach, I believe. Alongside London, the South East of England has the highest numbers of graduates.

As a past student of Beaconsfield High School, I’ve seen the effort in the local area to urge teens to apply for universities. During my time, the guidance counsellors seemed uncertain about other options and all students were made to write ‘personal statements’ irrespective of whether they had any interest in higher education or not. Unsurprisingly, because of this guidance, the majority of the class of 2010 did go on to university, whether it was the best option or not.

Yet, this rise in teens choosing to continue into further education is not just down to a lack of proper guidance. Whilst the endorsement within schools is clearly a factor in the increase, nevertheless it’s true that those with degrees are more likely to find work. A study recently showed that 87% of those with degrees got a job. Meanwhile, only 48.5% of those without any qualifications were employed.

The education system has changed a lot over the last 30 years. In 1990 there were 77, 163 full time undergraduate students. Since then, this number has more than quadrupled. Many parents of students in higher education grew up in a time when university was seen as exclusive and, as such, urge their children into academia, whether or not they’re suited to that career path. “The biggest problem is that when our parents were younger, intelligence was seen as the most important thing but now it seems to be all about who you know,” says Oliver Martin-Hirsch, another recent graduate. “What you’re paying for at university might turn out to be just the graduate status and the chance to network.”

That precious job

Yet, because of this increase in graduates, young people entering into the job market are not only expected to have a degree, but also to have gained experience in the line of work they choose – experience that is often only available unpaid. A quarter of businesses in the UK pay their interns nothing or less than the minimum wage. This means that those with parental support often have an unfair advantage, enabling them to work for free and, ultimately, giving them a better chance of finding graduate employment.

Although in Buckinghamshire, more often than not we benefit from this bias, not only financially but also in our close proximity to London where many placements are based, any system that is stifling the potential of young people is one that we should all be worried about.

And, yet, whilst I appear to be mapping out only one possible route to success, gaining a degree may not be as fruitful as it seems. The studies on employment rates conveniently ignore the fact that almost half of those who graduated in the last five years have gone into non-graduate roles, or into a position where a degree is unnecessary. They also fail to recognise that some degrees are more desirable than others. For those going into medicine and dentistry, they’re guaranteed to get a job at the end of their degree, but, for their arts and humanities counterparts, the job search can be a much lengthier process.

Despite this, between 2002 and 2012 there was a near 80 per cent increase in the number of students studying for degrees in humanities, business and creative arts or design, whilst there was only around a 20 per cent rise in students taking physical sciences, engineering and technology degrees.

Success by degrees

These figures are troubling. Not just because there is a clear disparity in the spread of students, but also because there are some major shortfalls in the structure of arts courses. I studied English Language and Literature and what I found most troubling was the lack of courses in practical skills. Each module was focussed on a specific period of literature, but all were structured almost identically. They required students to improve their essay-writing skills and exam techniques repeatedly, but sadly left many unsure about what they could practically do with their degree.

One result of weaker careers and earnings of the excess of arts and humanities graduates is that student loans get paid back slower or not at all. Recently there has been a hype surrounding new proposals to change the student loan system, where universities will buy their students’ debt, introducing an effective incentive to teach students how to earn. Many fear that this will negatively impact those in less career-driven courses.

Yet, as a recent graduate in a subject that would, most likely, be impacted, I see this as a positive step. If universities were to buy their students’ debt this could lead to an increase in the number of practical courses within the creative disciplines – a move that would then help those leaving university and entering a competitive job market.

Are you complacent?

What is clear is that the UK today is not focused towards aiding young people into well-paid jobs. When I asked a group of students to describe their feelings towards their parents’ generation in one word, they came up with ‘complacent’ - and this seems a fair comment to me. Policies are deliberately geared to gain votes, and, as such, young people who support less traditional lines of political involvement are left out and often forgotten. It’s certainly true of Beaconsfield that younger people are less politically active, with few opportunities for teens to join campaigns and get involved in local politics.

But what’s important to remember is that we’re really not indifferent. In 2010 around 10,000 students protested in London about the increased tuition fees and a student campaign at one university managed to shut down a club night that used rape culture for advertising.

The internet has changed how we are involved in social networking, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t want to make changes for the better. And so traditions must change and those with power should listen, or the problems we face now will only be worse for our children. Despite what voting figures say, we are not another ‘complacent’ generation. We are trying to be heard – we just need someone to listen.

About Hannah Boland

Hannah, 21, starts an MA in Journalism course this month, having graduated from Leeds University with a BA (Hons) degree in English Language and Literature, also completing an Erasmus Year in Sweden through the European Commission’s flagship education programme.

She lives in Knotty Green with her family and left Beaconsfield High School with 11 A or A* GCSEs and four A levels.

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