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Higher Education

Comment 8th August 2010

There seems to be a number of issues with higher education:

1) The cost of Fees and students supporting themselves with living costs

2) The perception by employers that higher education does not prepare people for working life

3) Issues with university places and the clearing system

The most straightforward answer to these issues to make it compulsory for students to complete 1 year of work experience before entering university. Students would not apply to university until the spring of the following year.

In addition reduce most courses to 2 years. My BA course (Politics ironically) at University had a total of 10 hours lectures and tutorials a week. Even allowing for study time this means that this course could have been increased to 20 or 25 hours per week and therefore be cut down to 2 years or 18 months (or even 1 year if the huge summer holidays were cut down). I know that there are many other courses like this.

This has many benefits:

a) Gives students some valuable experience and an idea of the kind of skills employers are after.

b) Allows them to earn some money to help with living costs. If students only need to support themselves for 18 months to 2 years and already have some money behind them then this will greatly help to reduce the amount of debt that students leave university with.

c) Allows them to re-think their course choice and apply to the appropriate university for their grades as they will already know their results. Some may of course choose the stay in work freeing up places for others while adding to the tax -paying work-force.

d) It allows for networking at an employer and may lead to a job offer when they graduate.

e) A course that demanded full time (30-35 hours pw) study is much better preparation for the demands of a working environment.

However there are also some issues that would need working through:

a) Some courses cannot be condensed e.g. Medicine as they are pretty much full time already. This may lead to some courses becoming the prerogative of the rich but then that is not much different to now.

b) There needs to be a sufficient pool of available jobs. However if key employers (the government being the main one) could be signed up to support a placement scheme then this could provide a real benefit to both the students and the economy.

How much does the government spend on expensive temps and interns when there is a huge source of  reasonably priced labour that is not being utilised?

Employer interest could easily be peaked if there was an incentive e.g. reduced employer national insurance contributions for 1 year for those that are taken on under the scheme.

I would be interested to hear what people think of this idea.

Why does this matter?

Higher education will be a key driver for the economy going forward.

The country needs graduates that are ready for the working environment and it must address the financial issues caused by going to university which at the moment raise the risk of talented and motivated individuals from poorer backgrounds missing out on the opportunities that further education provides, reducing social mobility and wasting potential.

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