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New government review urges all students should be offered internships.

4th March 2012

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With graduate unemployment at an all time high, a government-commissioned report suggests that all undergraduate students should be offered the opportunity to undertake 10 to 12 week internships in order to improve their chances of employability.

The ‘Review of Business-University Collaboration’, authored by Sir Tim Wilson, proposes that undergraduate students should participate in internships during summer vacation periods in order to ensure that they are able to compete in the increadingly competitive job-market of the corporate world.

The report advises that those students who are able to secure a paid internship through such a scheme should be supported by the government via a tax credit or some form of a grant. It goes on to suggest that in cases when internships are unpaid, university funds which are usually directed to widen poorer students’ access to higher education should be reassigned to support those students on placement. David Willetts, the Universities and Science Minister, has argued that this will be a ‘legitimate use’ of the money raised by universities through the increase in tuition fees.

Graduate unemployment is at an all time high, with employers seeking graduates who possess key employability skills, such as time-management skills, problem solving ability, communication skills, and application of IT and numeracy skills.

According to the CBI Education and Skills Survey 2011, 82% of employers rated employability skills as the highest graduate recruitment factor. However students are unlikely to develop these skills solely as a result of studying for a university degree, frequently needing first-hand work experience to cultivate the practical skills desired by employers.

The report goes on to recommend that sandwich-style degree courses, ones which integrate a placement year into the degree structure, should be introduced into more higher education institutions as the, "Evidence that a placement year improves employability opportunities is strong. Indeed lack of work experience appears as a key barrier to young people, including graduates, in securing employment."

Another proposal suggests that with the increase of tuition fees, those students who choose to participate in a year in industry should only be charged £1,000 in university gees rather than the permitted maximum of £4,500.

Even though such internships allow for the practical application of knowledge acquired through the cirriculum, the number of students participating in such sandwich courses has declined from 9.5% in 2003 to just over 7% in 2010. Within that number, only a small portion of those universities provide the majority of all placements.

The benefits of undertaking a placement year are evident within graduate recruitment figures. The University of Surrey, which places a strong emphasis on undertaking a year in industry, regularly tops graduate employment league tables, highlighting the importance a placement year plays in gaining full-time employment.

Commenting on the report, Business Secretary Vince Cable said, "The best universities around the world are building deeper links with business. The government welcomes much of what Sir Tim says and will carefully consider his recommendations in detail."

The findings of the report have also been welcomed by Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group, who has stated that, "Employability skills are a key part of the curriculum." She went on to highllight some of the universities across the country that already aim to provide students with work experience.

"Liverpool law students undertake pro bono work and Manchester law students also offer innovative work place experiences."

The report ends by indicating that if the government agree to such proposals, it is likely that graduate unemployment figures will begin to decline.

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