Sunday, September 11, 2016

European Unemployment and UK Education

Having voted to remain in the EU, the positive next step in the light of the UK majority voting against 'remain', is to concentrate of making a success of Brexit.

Clearly there will be much to be said about this in coming years. Possibly rather like the ignominious almost accidental UK exiting the European Exchange Rate mechanism in 1992, which essentially led to this country steering well clear of the Euro which formally started  7 years later, the UK's  2016 decision to exit the EU will  be seen as giving the country a fortunate albeit perhaps accidental, escape route.

The current EU position as to unemployment is appalling in many countries particularly in those on the southern and eastern EU borders. Additionally in most EU countries not excluding the UK, statistics for unemployed young people, seem even worse far worse in some cases..

There is an interesting article in todays Observer newspaper part of which reads:

Stefan Wimmer and Ralf Guttermeyer have wanted to be firemen ever since they can remember. Both aged 17, they are now in the rare position of making their childhood dream a career: seven weeks ago, they became two of four apprentices at Munich airport’s firefighting services.  In Upper Bavaria, where the two teenagers live, their chances were always stacked in their favour. At 3.4%, the administrative district in Germany’s south has the lowest unemployment rate for people aged 15-24 in the entire European Union. The number of people on Germany’s workfare scheme, Hartz IV, is also lower here than anywhere in the rest of the country.
Vince Cable who was a (Liberal party) cabinet minister in the previous UK coalition government, gave a good talk on this subject in 2014, His comments then included:
We shall not survive in this world if we in Britain alone down-grade the non-university professional and technical sector. No other country in the Western world does so… Let us now move away from our snobbish caste-ridden hierarchical obsession with university status.
But in gaining these universities, we lost something. Our post-secondary education has become distorted. The OECD concluded that our post-secondary vocational sub-degree sector is small by international standards – probably well under 10% of the youth cohort, compared to a third of young people elsewhere. In the US, more than 20% of the workforce have a post-secondary certificate or an associate degree as their highest qualification. In Austria and German, sub-degree provision accounts for around 50% of the cohort. In South Korea, one-third of the youth cohort enters junior college on 2-year programmes of higher vocational training. Elsewhere, countries with low volumes have sought to address the problem. Sweden, for example, trebled its numbers in higher VET programmes between 2001 and 2011.
A difficulty for England has been the huge expansion in University education which was really initiated under Labour. In the late 1960s  about 4% of  young  people went on to Higher Education whereas by 2014 that percentage had grown to  47% - clearly a vast increase. 

The UK governments did not really plan for the funding of this huge increase until  fees and loans began to be introduced with the largest crie de cour being felt by the Liberal/SDP part of the last coalition government, when with considerable  difficulty, the decision was taken to permit university fee charging to be increased to .£9,000 pa. Of course this was opposed by the Labour opposition but the real issues must surely be that University education does not suit every talent and that the cost of pretending that it does is unsustainable.
Apprenticeships have proved hugely successful in Germany  which has the lowest European youth unemployment rate and the highest trade European surplus - much of the latter with the UK.. The UK  now appears belatedly to be considering adopting part of the successful German pattern,  for in a March 2016 briefing paper it is stated:
In the 2015 Queen’s Speech the Government set out its intention to create a duty to report on progress to meeting the target of 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020. Public sector bodies will be required to employ apprentices and be set targets to increase apprenticeship numbers. The Welfare Reform and Work Bill includes an obligation for the Government to report each year on the progress made towards meeting this target. The Government has also announced that it would give apprenticeships the same legal treatment as degrees and protect the term “apprenticeship”, in the Enterprise Bill. In line with recommendations from The Richard Review, new apprenticeship standards are being developed by employer led groups known as “trailblazers”. A new funding pilot is being trialled for these standards giving employers greater control over spending on training delivery. The modalities of the Apprenticeship levy were announced in the Spending Review and Autumn Statement 2015. The levy will be rolled out in April 2017 and paid by 2% of UK employers. It will raise over £3 billion a year by 2019-20, £2.5 billion of which will be spent on apprenticeships in England only. This is the highest investment in real terms ever made for apprenticeships.
This may be a start but my own view is that education in the UK has been a political football for far too long as is illustrated by the current furore over new grammar schools. What is really needed is for politicians to stand back and for job providers and skill seekers to come to the fore more, over developing educational facilities for young people. 
In my view a new kind of school is required to cater for the many bright young people who are seeking practical and vocational skills rather than those seeking to develop their academic talents. Such new schools which need not replace existing schools, would encourage apprenticeships and provide a first rate education, geared more to practical than academic excellence.  The friction between arguments about state comprehensive or grammar school education, is political and really out of date in C21.

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