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Labour defend the rise in uni places - whose side are you on?


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Labour has defended the rise in the number of university places that happened while it was in power as a positive outcome, saying it has boosted the economy. 

Shadow higher education minister Shabana Mahmood argued that a greater number of university graduates would provide an asset to the British economy in competing with the emerging economies of other countries. The minister's comments  came in a lecture to the University Alliance group of business-focused universities.

Ms Mahmood drew on recent government figures that showed 90% of graduates were either in work or further study six months after graduating. She added that even lower performing universities such as University College Birmingham in her own constituency had a graduate employment rate of 81%.

Her views contrast with the Coalition's decision to increase university fees, which have seen over 30 universities hike their fees to the proposed £9,000, and a drop of 8.9% applications for the 2012 academic year. The Minister argued that this is cause for concern.  

She said: "The government's reforms are going in the wrong direction; applications to university have dropped by 8.9% since last year, there have been falls in applications for degrees in science, technology, engineering and maths and from mature students."

Supporting her views, Libby Hackett, of University Alliance, said that the recession had led to an increase in demand for degree qualified employees. In a blog for the London School of Economics, Hackett argued that the growing number of available university places were essential for the future of young people in Britain, and for the economic growth.

The University Alliance's report, The way we’ll work, suggests that there is need for more graduates, not less. According to the report,  labour market indicators suggested that there is a shortage of graduates in the UK. The impact of technology was cited as changing the structure of the labour market, resulting in an increased demand for degree level employees.

Mahmood added: "The impact of technology and how it changes the nature of so many jobs means there is a need for more graduates" and that universities of any calibre should be concerned with student employment first and foremost.

The shortage of graduates is cited as being a result of a growth in high wage analytical jobs and an expansion of lower wage jobs. The report's findings indicated that the lowest paying third job and highest paying thirds in the UK had increased, whilst middle paying third jobs had dropped by nearly 12 %. In addition, the strongest observed employment growth has been in the three occupation groups with the highest density of graduates, together accounting for three quarters of growth between 2000 and 2010.

But Assistant Comment Editor for the Telegraph Daniel Knowles has stated  that this observation in more graduates in higher earning jobs can be misleading.

He writes: "Throughout the Labour years, increasing access to higher education has been seen as a way to prepare Britain's "knowledge economy". Somebody spotted that graduates were earning a lot more than non-graduates, and so decided that increasing the number of graduates was the solution. But the problem is that more graduates doesn't necessarily mean more graduate jobs. It might just mean more graduate unemployment." 

The rise in fees has been cited as the reason for less students applying for university places in 2012, the year the new fees system will be implemented. But rather than acting as a deterrent,  Mary Curnock Cook, the head of UCAS, argues the hike in fees would simply make students "more thoughtful" in their decision to attend higher education.

She said: "Applicants are taking longer to research their choices but the applications flow has speeded up", adding that many students have yet to make a decision on whether to attend university. For now, it remains unclear as to whether the rise in fees has had an impact on University applications yet, and time will tell if dwindling places will add fuel to the recession.

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