My message to today’s A-level students: seize the future

Twice as many young people are jobless compared with my A-level year

Share

What a different world today’s A-level students are stepping into, compared with the one my friends and I faced when we ripped open our results envelopes just over a decade ago.

Sure, the similarities are there. That heady mixture of anticipation, excitement and fear; the shrieks of joy, the hugs, the weeping, the couples smooching, the looks of resigned disappointment; the sudden realisation that adolescence is over, normally flushed away with cheap lager and happy hour cocktails, and maybe an awkward fumble between long-standing friends. And there’s the newspapers filled with gratuitous photo shoots of attractive young women, ecstatically jumping in the air, and raging debates about what the results mean about standards.

But it is a different era. When the main quad of Stockport’s Ridge Danyers Sixth Form College was thronging with excitable 18-year-olds in 2002, Lehman Brothers’ logo was still glistening in Canary Wharf and New York. Britain apparently was in the midst of a never-ending economic boom. The GDP figures for the previous year were seen as a slight disappointment because the economy had grown “only” by 2.2 per cent. There were a million fewer unemployed people, and living standards were rising, generally, across the board. New Labour had introduced tuition fees four years earlier, but the ceiling was set at £1,000 a year, nine times lower than it is today. Graduate unemployment was gradually falling. It was months before the already monstrously unpopular US President George W Bush launched Shock and Awe against Iraq, politicising a wave of young students who took to the streets in the age of the so-called “war on terror”.

It would be beyond grouchy for me to ruin the day with frightening or doomsday predictions about what lies ahead for today’s A-level generation. The hard work of thousands of students and teachers will be reflected in results that will rightly be a source of pride and vindication. Those who go to university will meet lifelong friends, possibly even their life partners; they will learn things – both as academic and social beings – that will transform them for ever. Others will find jobs that are fulfilling and allow them in time to support a family.

But blimey, there’s no point pretending: things will be considerably harder than they were for me or my peers. A government that justifies its austerity programme with chilling warnings about saddling the next generation with debt will leave today’s university leavers paying off £60,000, in many cases for the rest of their lives. The number of students – generally from poorer backgrounds – having to work during term time to cover costs is much higher than it was, despite research suggesting it lowers grades. And neither are those who amass these excruciating debts guaranteed work: one in 10 graduates are now jobless six months after leaving university.

Overall, there are twice as many young people languishing in unemployment as there were when Stockport’s state schools had finished with me. And there’s no point glorifying the situation of many of those who actually find work. A third of university graduates are now doing jobs that don’t require degrees, up from a quarter a decade ago. A million people – many of them young – are stuck on zero-hour contracts, a disturbing echo of a supposedly bygone era when mostly young men would trundle to a yard in the early hours to find out if they had any work that day. Others are among the record numbers of workers forced to do part-time work in a country where 6.5 million are looking for jobs with more hours. There’s the booming poverty wage jobs, too: TUC research shows that nearly four in five of the jobs created since June 2010 pay less than £7.95 an hour. Whether they go to university or not, many of today’s A-level students will be fodder for Britain’s increasingly low-paid and precarious workforce.

There are other factors, too, that are conspiring to ensure the fresh faces of Britain’s future will be poorer than their parents for the first time since the Second World War. A housing crisis that has festered since the 1980s will leave many having to choose between joining a five million-strong social housing waiting list or being forced into a private rental sector charging rip-off rents and offering insecure tenancy agreements.

Despite strenuous government denials that their trebling of tuition fees would not deter students, the number of applications has yet to recover to their 2010 peak. Even then, it is claimed that low-income students – who are far less likely to apply – have not been deterred. It is difficult to quantify how true this is, because the figures are based on neighbourhoods, thus – for example – overlooking whether poorer students in better-off areas have been put off or not.

There are other models that are worth considering. Take Germany: in their dual educational system, vocational and academic qualifications are treated with equal respect. Most young Germans complete an apprenticeship, where they balance time working for a company with formal education. Transplanting that system to Britain isn't straightforward: modern industries would be needed to support the apprenticeships, and it would have to avoid falling into the trap of segregating working-class people into vocational qualifications, leaving the academic courses for the middle-class youngsters.

But if I had a message to today’s A-level students, it would this. As frightening as it all seems, don’t be depressed or beaten down by it. There is no better education than learning how to fight for your future. Look to Germany, where tuition fees are now being abolished. Fight for a living wage and the abolition of precarious, hire-and-fire contracts. Demand an industrial strategy, where the Government intervenes to create hundreds of thousands of renewable energy jobs to provide dignified, skilled jobs, backed up by properly paid apprenticeships. Call for councils to be allowed to build homes, again creating jobs but also helping to ensure you have an affordable home to look forward to. If you go to university, link up with those working there – whether they’re a cleaner or a professor – to fight for a place of learning that isn’t a consumer product, but a social good. Fight for a Britain where you are taxed based on how much income and wealth you have, not on how educated you are.

Of course, that can wait. Tonight is about shots, happy hour cocktails and awkward fumbles with people you shouldn’t. But when the hangover has passed, think it over, and don’t let them take your future away from you.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Patient Advisor / Treatment Assistant

£13520 - £19520 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's market leader in Refra...

Guru Careers: Tax Manager / Accountant

£35 - £50k DOE: Guru Careers: A Tax Manager / Accountant (ACA / CA / CTA) is n...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Business Development B2B - Year 1 OTE £25,000

£17000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Several opportunities to join t...

Recruitment Genius: Systems Administrator

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a small, busy team s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I predicted MH370 would end up at Reunion Island. Its discovery could debunk conspiracy theories

Charitha Pattiaratchi
A protestor from the 'Robin Hood Tax Campaign,'  

The Robin Hood Tax is a more sensible and fairer way of helping our economy to recover

Jeremy Corbyn
A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

Are you a 50-center?

Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

Hollywood's new diet trends

Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
6 best recipe files

6 best recipe files

Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works