Memorandum submitted by the National Union of Students

 

Introduction and Summary

 

1. The National Union of Students (NUS) is a voluntary membership organisation comprising a confederation of local student representative organisations in colleges and universities throughout the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland which have chosen to affiliate and which pay a membership fee. NUS has 600 constituent members from virtually every college and university in the country and, as such, represents the interests of more than 7 million students.

 

2. NUS welcomes the opportunity to provide written evidence to the Children, Schools and Families Committee into "young people not in education, employment or training". NUS believe the problems facing young people not in education employment or training to be of great importance, and thus consider efforts to address the problem as being of a very high priority.

 

3. NUS supports the recent government proposals to tackle those young people falling into the NEET category, whilst believing that the size of the problem- with almost one in five young people currently not in education, employment or training - demands that this investment should go further. Additionally, NUS believes that this complex issue requires a complex solution, and is wary of initiatives to reduce the number of young people in the NEET category simply to reduce the number of people on benefits.

 

4. In this submission we have made reference to young people in the NEET category. However, the term 'NEETs' to describe young people not in education, employment or training risks itself being obstructive by defining those people as deficient. In addressing this issue, it is crucial that we at all times remain cognisant of the very real human dimensions to the phenomenon. NUS believes that the use of the term risks stigmatizing young people, and coming to view them as a 'problem to be solved' rather than as people bearing potential.

 

5. Data on the NEET category is insufficient to ensure targeted support. In particular, some young people are in the NEET category over the long-term, whilst others move in and out of the NEET category. Further research is needed to add to our understanding of the dynamics surrounding the phenomenon.

 

Strategies for the identification of young people at risk of falling into the "NEET" category

 

6. NUS believes that the number of young people currently leaving education with little or no formal qualifications is of great concern, with these individuals most likely to fall into the NEET category, and least likely to subsequently get out of it.

 

7. NUS understand that the greatest concern in respect to those young people falling into the NEET category is when this status becomes entrenched. As such, all those leaving education, whether it be school, further education college or university, should be provided with opportunities for education, training and work experience wherever possible. There is strong evidence, particularly from Professor David Blanchflower, about the acute long-term impact of unemployment on young people[1].

 

Services and programmes to support those most at risk of becoming "NEET", and to reduce the numbers and address the needs of those who have become persistently "NEET"

 

8. NUS believes that information, advice and guidance (IAG) plays a crucial role in tackling the number of young people not in education, employment or training, and furthermore that both young people and adults deserve impartial IAG which is not destination or target driven.

 

9. NUS supports evidence revealed in the Rathbone/Nuffield 'Engaging Youth Enquiry' (2008) which suggests that those in the NEET category require a trusted individual and critical friend to provide such guidance[2]. As such, we welcome the new strategy from the Department of Children, Schools and Families on Information, Advice and Guidance, 'Quality, Choice and Aspiration', which places emphasis upon personalised and impartial IAG for young people[3]. NUS is concerned however at the budget cuts proposed in the Adult Advancement and Careers Service, which represents a cut in IAG services for adults.

 

10. NUS welcomed the Government's announcement in the Pre-Budget Report on 9 December 2009 that a guarantee for all 16 or 17 year olds to receive education or training will be extended for a further year. It was previously planned that the guarantee would last for only one year.

 

11. NUS also welcomed a commitment that under-24 year olds would be guaranteed training or employment after six months out of work, rather than the original twelve month period. We had long argued that earlier intervention was necessary to guard against increasing long-term youth unemployment.

 

12. NUS also supported the Government's announcement in the Pre-Budget Report on Wednesday 9 December 2009 that it plans to provide financial support for 10,000 low-income undergraduates to help them carry out internships in professions. NUS believes that this, in the current context of a shortage of graduate jobs, will be of great benefit to those graduates who could not otherwise rely on their family supporting them upon leaving university.

 

13. NUS additionally believes the financial support announced for low-income students to be commendable in opening up internships to those who could not otherwise afford to work for free, and so making the benefits that internships provide more accessible to a wider range of graduates.

 

14. NUS believes that the insight that unpaid internships can act as impediments to fair access to many graduate jobs should be developed. In this light, NUS supports the recommendations from the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions (July 2009) that the Government should allow students to draw from their Student Loan entitlements in four parts rather than the current three, enabling students to be able to cover the additional costs of taking a short summer internship, and should explore the potential for further means-tested 'micro-loans' to cover internships in other cases. In order to support the cost of this, companies offering internships could be given the option to pay a small part of their tax contribution directly to the Student Loans Company[4].

 

15. As there are geographical as well as economic barriers to the uptake of internships, it is important that internships are made available all across the regions, and not overly concentrated in London.

 

16. NUS recognises the increase in demand for teacher-training places, and feels that this increased demand should be met through an expansion in teacher-training provision. This should include a specific expansion in the number of places for teacher training in vocational subjects in further education for the new cohort of 16-17 years olds who will be encouraged to stay on at school.

 

17. In addition to an increase in teacher-training positions, teaching internships should be introduced, whereby unemployed graduates can volunteer to work in schools for a year on a half salary and receive teacher training certification upon completion of the internship.

 

18. NUS believes that the current lack of graduate-level jobs is a problem for not just graduates but, through the process of 'bumping down' leads to less jobs for non-graduates. Policies directed at creating graduate-level job opportunities should thus be seen in this light.

 

The effectiveness of the Government's NEET strategy

 

19. NUS commends the Government's extension of the guarantee for education or training for everyone aged 16-17 and gave a cautious welcoming to increasing the education participation age to 18. However, NUS believes that we must remain mindful of the fact that compulsion and associated punishments could create a negative perception of these extended opportunities in education and training.

 

20. NUS welcomes the Government's announcement in October 2009 that the trials taking place to prepare local authorities for the raising of the participation age will focus upon careers advice, therefore ensuring that young people maximise their options and skills.

 

21. NUS believes the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) scheme to be of great importance in this respect, in making post-16 education and training a more feasible option for all young people. It is of great importance to the 500,000 young people each year whose education is facilitated and supported through EMA that the scheme is maintained.

 

22. The E2E (Entry to Employment) scheme gives young people who are not in education, employment or training a valuable and much-needed opportunity to gain the skills and confidence needed to enter into employment or an apprenticeship. To continue to improve the prospects of young, unemployed people, particularly during the recession, more E2E places should be offered to meet the high demand. Additionally, the funding stream for E2E after April 2010 should be made transparent.

 

23. NUS additionally supports the Future Jobs Fund, whilst believing that this type of investment can and should be significantly greater.

 

The likely impact of raising the participation age on strategies for addressing the needs of young people not in education, employment or training

 

24. NUS believes that post-16 education should be encouraged, and made possible for all students through financial support schemes such as the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA). However, it is right that this is not always seen in terms of purely academic study, and thus that quality alternatives include vocational study and apprenticeships.

 

25. More work needs to be done on ensuring that all those additional young people who are expected to participate in education and training from 2013 are given appropriate support.

 

The opportunities and future prospects in education, training and employment for 16-18 year olds

 

26. NUS believes it to be of crucial importance that those who are qualified to undertake further and higher education and wish to do so are able to. In this regard, it is of a great concern that there are not currently sufficient places available in universities and further education colleges for this to occur. Further funding should urgently be put in place to address this issue, given that those additional university so far created are already largely accounted for.

 

27. NUS believes that further investment in infrastructure projects should be brought forward, with a particular focus on 'green projects', which tend to create jobs which are skilled and well paid, so providing sustainable employment for young people.

 

28. NUS recognises that the 14-19 dilomas have received mixed reviews. We believe that whilst a mixture of academic and vocational learning is beneficial, opportunities to progress to higher education or employment must be paramount. As the number of Diplomas expands and more young people take them up, we need to be confident that our future opportunities will not be placed at risk or limited in any way. This can be achieved by a creating a curriculum focused on employability.

 

29. There is a well-documented long standing decline the availability of apprenticeships. We commend the recent investment through the Future Jobs Fund aimed at increasing their availability. However, we believe that this must be continued into the long-term, and not seen merely as a response to the current economic situation.

 

30. NUS believes that the current exemption on the National Minimum Wage for those undertaking apprenticeships is unjust. Arguments about the costs to business arising from revoking this exemption are weak given the current Government Train to Gain funding on offer.

 

Conclusion

 

31. NUS believes that the issue of young people not in education, employment or training is one which cannot be appropriately tackled without significant long-term investment and joined-up policy.

 

32. As is well documented, the eventual costs of long-term unemployment for young people are considerable, as well as the long-term impact on individual well-being, make significant investment now a far more preferable and sustainable alternative.

 

33. Ensuring that young people are placed on the right programmes will improve retention and achievement and ensure that those in education or training will not drop out. This highlights the emphasis that must be placed on information, advice and guidance for young people as a Government priority in this area.

 

34. NUS supports much that the Government has so far proposed and enacted, whilst feeling further investment and extension of these policies to be necessary to address a crisis that will not abate for a considerable period of time, regardless of whether the wider health of the economy improves in the near future.

 

December 2009

 



[1] Blanchflower/ Bell (2009) What Should Be Done about Rising Unemployment in the UK?

http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/speeches/2009/speech379paper.pdf

[2] Rathbone/ Nuffield (2008) Review Engaging Youth Enquiry, p. 70

http://www.nuffield14-19review.org.uk/files/documents196-1.pdf

[3] DCSF (2009) Quality, Choice and Aspiration

http://publications.dcsf.gov.uk/eOrderingDownload/IAG-Report-v2.pdf

[4] Panel on Fair Access to the Professions (July 2009) Unleashing Aspiration: The Final Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions, p. 109

http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/media/227102/fair-access.pdf