Record number of students accepted to university

UCAS, the UK's university admissions service, has said the number of students accepted onto university courses reached a record high of 385,910 today – a nine per cent increase on the year before.

Students across the country are waiting to find out their A level results today, with many hoping to continue on to higher education, while others hope to go straight into work.

This comes as restrictions on the number of students English universities can take on are relaxed slightly. Universities will now be free to take on as many students achieving ABB at A level as they like – down from AAB before. It has been estimated around 100,000 students will achieve these grades.

Writing in the Telegraph earlier this year, City A.M. editor Allister Heath, said that increasing the number of students going to university is not what the UK needs and is unfair on those given false hope.

Britain is facing a jobs crisis made in Downing Street and signed off by the leaders of all political parties, starting with Sir John Major, during the past quarter century. The problem is not the number of new jobs – there are lots of those, confounding the sceptics, and could be even more if the labour market doesn’t become over-regulated. The issue is that an obscenely large number of young people with a university education will not be able to find a job that matches their expectations....

The horrible truth is that central planning never works: just as the authorities cannot possibly know how many widgets an economy ought to produce, or what the “right” price for goods will turn out to be, they cannot possibly know many decades in advance what skills will be required, or what percentage of school-leavers should go to university. It is hard to fathom what Tony Blair was thinking when he promised that half of 18-year-olds would go to university. The result has been betrayal, broken dreams, graduates working in coffee shops, a business community that still cannot find the right people with the right soft and hard skills, and a generation of young people crumbling under ever larger student debts. It’s a social catastrophe for which nobody has yet paid the price; even worse, it remains politically unacceptable for those in a position of power to point any of this out...

To many employers, university education has become little more than a signalling device, a means to filter out potential staff. To others, it is seen as a remedial device, there to fill in the gaps left by state education. The result has been an inflation of entry requirements, with positions once open to plucky 16-year-olds now requiring at least a bachelor’s degree, if not a master’s, even though the actual work hasn’t changed one jot....

Britain needs more, better, skilled jobs – and that means making the UK more welcoming as a base for firms in areas such as technology, science, finance and high value added business services....

Crucially, the UK must focus on improving the knowledge and skills of school-leavers, currently all too often heart-breakingly inadequate, eventually reducing the need for as many to go to university. The reforms being pursued by Michael Gove are an excellent first step, but it is a tragedy that he isn’t being allowed to go faster and further.

Apprenticeships and vocational qualifications are essential: had politicians focused on these in recent decades, rather than on boosting university admissions at any cost, the prospects for Britain’s young would be very different today.

Most important of all, however, the political establishment needs to start telling our young people the truth: it doesn’t make sense for everybody to go to university.

(Full article)

From today's City A.M.: