Students who are graduating this summer, as well as recent graduates, are entering a new and largely unknown job market, following the widespread disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Many companies are only now able to contemplate opening their doors again, following the early closure of businesses and other venues when the UK government imposed lockdown on March 23.
Universities across the UK have been working hard to support the Class of 2020, with a variety of careers services moved online – including careers cafes, recruitment fairs, work placements and dedicated support for disadvantaged graduates. However, Universities UK (UUK) believes support must be given to new and recent graduates who are about to enter a recovering job market that has fewer opportunities and increased competition. Graduates will have a central role to play in the social and economic recovery of the country and that potential must be given to opportunity to succeed.
A one-year UK-wide scheme of recovery internships, working with local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) in England and the equivalent groups in the devolved nations and targeted at businesses most in need, could help support up to 100,000 graduates to work with local companies. Joint working with universities, LEPs and businesses with support from the UK government could create fair and meaningful opportunities for young people and ensure this crisis does not lead to a rise in unpaid internships – and reverse the hard-won progress the sector has begun to make on social mobility. UUK is happy to work with government, the Office for Students, and other relevant bodies on the different ways any additional support for this scheme could be provided and allocated.
UUK, working with the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS), has established an Advisory Board with representatives from higher education, business and careers services to help understand what more can be done to support graduates.
But government support is necessary if graduates are to be given the best chance of success in a post Covid-19 work economy. In a new report, UUK is recommending that government provides the following to best support their prospects;
Targeted support for universities and businesses to set-up paid internship opportunities for graduates.
Greater support to co-ordinate graduate internship opportunities including better communication of existing schemes.
An in-study interest break on the Postgraduate Master's Loan to encourage more – including those from poorer backgrounds – to consider postgraduate study.
Policy change to support a growth in modular and bitesize learning opportunities to help meet immediate business needs.
Professor Julia Buckingham, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London, said: "Every student graduating this year is part of a remarkable class that has overcome the unexpected and extraordinary challenges of the pandemic.
"The skills these graduates have acquired are lifelong and highly valuable to employers. Students, who have worked hard for years to get a degree or qualification they are proud of, should not have to pay the price for a situation that is outside their control. In these unique and unforeseen circumstances, targeted support is needed to enable this year's graduating class to realise their potential and prosper fully.
"Universities have been offering widespread support to help this year's graduates find jobs and, while some employers are still running recruitment programmes online, the fact remains that there are thousands fewer jobs this year. Government support to incentivise and grow paid internships would benefit both graduates and employers, creating impactful opportunities for these young people and supporting the economic recovery."
Mark Bretton, Chair of the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Network, said: "LEPs are already working with HE and FE partners on their LEP Boards to build the recovery and invest in the future lives of local young people. The graduate paid internship proposal from UUK is a logical extension of that work and would prove an effective way to support new graduates, help local businesses, boost the local economy, and contribute to the national recovery.
"We look forward to discussing the design and details with UUK and the government, and hope to explore how we can widen the initiative to include other areas like the FE sector. Our partnership with UUK on the Graduate 2020 programme is a natural fit, ensuring funds are targeted based on the needs of local businesses, particularly SMEs, and the priorities identified by LEP Skills Advisory Panels and Growth Hubs as part of economic recovery planning. The partnership clearly demonstrates how LEPs and universities can work together, not only to support business, but to help young people build their lives in one of the most economically challenging periods of modern times."
Speaking for NUS, Liam McCabe, President of NUS Scotland, said: "NUS's Student Safety Net campaign has been calling for government action to support those leaving education and entering a deep economic and social crisis this year. The effects of this current crisis will not be felt evenly, with graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds more likely to experience long-term economic detriment.
"We welcome these proposals from UUK and urge government to implement them. In particular, investment in widening access to postgraduate study and more modular and bitesize learning opportunities will be essential to graduates' and the UK's future."
Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), said: "The current crisis is likely to have a long-term negative impact on the career prospects of the 2020 and 2021 graduating cohorts. Employers facing significant financial challenges, particularly small and medium sized enterprises, will struggle to provide internships and entry level jobs in sufficient quantities to meet students' needs.
"A government funded stimulus package that encourages businesses to invest in young people will boost both the employment prospects of students and the skills base of the UK economy."
Matthew Percival, People and Skills Director at the CBI, said: "Graduates face a challenging labour market due to the impact of coronavirus. Businesses will do what they can to ensure that young people have opportunities as the economy restarts, but a new partnership between companies and government is needed. Financial incentives to create jobs and training opportunities earlier in recovery will be vital to reducing youth unemployment."
The UUK report 'Supporting graduates in a post-19 economy' can be found here
UK universities have been supporting the graduate class of 2020 in number of different ways. Further examples can be found here
The benefits of paid internships schemes are felt by both graduates and employers and often result in permanent employment. An ISE report (Inside student recruitment 2019: findings of the ISE recruitment survey) showed that seven out of every 10 firms hire previous summer interns.
Universities UK is the collective voice of 137 universities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Its mission is to create the conditions for UK universities to be the best in the world; maximising their positive impact locally, nationally and globally. Universities UK acts on behalf of universities, represented by their heads of institution. Visit: www.universitiesuk.ac.uk
AGCAS is the membership organisation for higher education student career development and graduate employment professionals. Through its members, it supports the best possible career outcomes from higher education for individuals, institutions, society and the economy. Visit: https://www.agcas.org.uk/