Government gap-year funding for graduates

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The Independent Online

The Government is to pay for hundreds of recent university graduates to go on "gap year"-style trips around the world at a time when thousands are struggling to find work because of the recession, it was revealed today.

The scheme will help graduates take part in overseas expeditions with Raleigh International, working on development projects such as building schools and improving sanitation and it is designed to help them develop the "soft skills" like leadership, teamwork and communication which will make them more attractive to employers.

According to The Times, the £500,000 scheme will fund up to 500 participants, who will be expected to raise £1,000 themselves and pay for their own flights and vaccinations for the trips, which would normally cost about £3,000 a person.

A spokesman for Lord Mandelson's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said that details of the scheme's financing would not be available until its formal launch in the coming week.

He said that it was intended to help young people from poorer backgrounds, who are often unable to access the sort of travel and adventure projects which help their more well-to-do rivals improve their employability.

But critics said that the scheme appeared to be a way of reducing graduate unemployment at a time when record numbers are remaining jobless for six months after leaving university.

Matthew Sinclair, of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "The Government's attempts to keep people off the unemployment numbers at any cost are growing more and more transparent.

"This kind of charity, paid for out of the taxpayer's pocket, is unfair and unsustainable."

Adverts for the scheme are expected to ask: "Have you recently graduated and feel like everything is all doom and gloom?" Joining an overseas expedition "could be just the thing you need to inject some excitement and optimism into your life".

The first participants, who must all be aged under 24, are expected to travel to far-flung communities in the developing world to take part in projects in the months before Christmas.

The BIS spokesman said the scheme was one in a range of measures designed to help young people through the current economic downturn, others included an increase in the number of university places and last week's announcement of an internship programme.

A BIS spokesman said: "The project to help a small number of graduates from poorer backgrounds which we will announce shortly with Raleigh is just part of a massive push from the Government to expand opportunities for young people to help them get on in life and into work - particularly in tougher times.

"As we said alongside the launch of Alan Milburn's report last month, we want young people of all backgrounds to be able to access good jobs and ensuring graduates most in need of support can build the soft skills we know employers see as important is part of that work going forward."

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