July 8th 2009
Unemployment, in East Kent, is rising. That means that there are going to be a significant number of young people leaving school this summer who will find it hard if not impossible to swiftly obtain jobs.
A worthwhile alternative to employment for a 16 or 18 year old is, of course, further or higher education or vocational training and this week Prime Minister Brown has once again stated that there will be school or college courses for those who need them. When I asked him, though, if his government intended to fully-fund the transport to and from school or college that is currently denied to students over 16 he was either unable or unwilling to answer the question and without such funding I fear that many potential sixth-formers and trainees will be unable to take advantage of the promised placements.
In mid-August the exam results arrive and hundreds of my young constituents will be looking to the Universities for degree courses. All the signs at present suggest that very many of them will be disappointed.
There will, in 2009 and 2010 be more young people than ever before of university age. This "bulge" has been known about for years but the government, having squandered taxpayers money bailing out failed financial institutions and now strapped for cash, has cut by 5000 the number of student places that it had intended to fund. As a result young people who might have gone to university, those in their early twenties who have wanted to go to university but delayed entry and those in their 30s and 40s who have never been to university but wish to go back into full-time education face the real prospect of being relegated to the ranks of the long-term unemployed with all the personal, family, health and consequential problems attached when they could be studying and training for the day when the Country finally emerges from recession and needs people with degree qualifications.
In hard cash terms it costs about £90 million over three years to provide an extra 5000 full-time university courses. The cost of not doing so, and leaving people to claim Job Seekers allowance or other benefits is about £120 per week per person more! If this is a no-brainer consider another downside: it looks very much as though there will be a greater shortage of university places in the South than in the North. For those willing and financially able to head beyond Watford to university that may not matter. But for those who have no tradition of higher education in the family, short of cash and unable to travel the choice is often between living at home and going to the local university college or not going to university at all. Inevitably that means that university colleges in areas of high social deprivation, such as East Kent, are likely to find themselves over-subscribed but not funded to meet the demand.
This is an issue that Ministers Mandelson and Balls, with their responsibilities for enterprise, skills and education, have failed to address. In other European countries faced with budget deficits governments have applied to the European Investment Bank and have received loans to bridge this gap on behalf of young people needing training and education today in order to contribute to the economy tomorrow. Why has the Government of the United Kingdom not done likewise? And why should the good A-level results that will arrive next month lead not to opportunity but to disappointment? I am sure that there is a Labour MP not far from your home that can explain this to you. In the meantime I shall hope to hear from any of my young constituents who, having gained the appropriate academic qualifications at school, cannot obtain a suitable university place.