Leading article: Learning the hard way

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The Independent Online

This year's crop of university graduates might be forgiven for wondering whether they have been sold a pup. They were encouraged by Government to go into higher education, having been told on countless occasions that a degree was the surest route to a decent job. They were even encouraged to accumulate debts in the process. The average graduate will emerge from academia owing £16,000, thanks mainly to the cost of tuition fees.

But rather than walking into a world of opportunities, this year's graduates have been spat out into a collapsing job market. A survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has found that almost a half of firms are not planning to recruit graduates in the coming months. And a new pamphlet from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills advises students to take whatever job they are offered, even if it does not require a degree.

So what, many of these young people will ask, was the purpose of all that study and expense? There is a legitimate question over whether the Government's crude target of channelling 50 per cent of young people into higher education, regardless of aptitude, is appropriate. But for the majority of graduates a degree is an investment that will pay off over the long term. The job market will, eventually, recover. And when it does those young people who have been through higher education will be better placed to take advantage of the upturn. Yet it would be foolish to deny that there is likely to be a good deal of frustration in store for graduates. The question is: what should their approach be in the tough employment market in which they find themselves? Ironically, the best option for some students will be to apply to extend their stay in higher education. Others should consider taking unpaid graduate internships, where feasible, in order to build up their experience. For others it will be appropriate to take modestly-paid jobs while they wait for other opportunities to arise.

The goal for university leavers should be to build up their skills and keep in touch with the employment market. It will be a struggle, but it should still be possible for industrious graduates to find opportunities in recession.