Britain’s growing class of the educated yet unemployed are turning to postgraduate studies and valueless internships
Last week I found myself in a pub talking (against my will) to a self-proclaimed entrepreneur, an inebriated online trader of printer cartridges who poured at least 50 per cent of his drink into his shoes. He was a strange sort, a drinker of WKD for one. But what made this particular gentleman more memorable still was what he revealed to me – that he was abandoning his entrepreneurial endeavours and returning to university, all because “he couldn’t think of anything else to do.”
Hearing someone take on a second degree with such indifference is quite a rarity these days. And not without reason. Studying for a postgraduate degree is a financial commitment not for the faint-hearted.
Tuition fees for one year of postgraduate study vary from as little as £3,000 to as much as £30,000. And they’re rising still. Data collected by The National Society of UK Tuition Fees puts the average figure around the £6,500 mark for the academic year 2011-2012, a 24 per cent increase on figures for 2010-2011. To add to the joy, funding for courses is also decreasing. Even Directgov admits “there’s a lot of competition for postgraduate funding”. Well that’s good to know.
For the majority who don’t receive funding there are other options – taking out a career development loan for one. Far less attractive than your bog standard student loan, the interest rates on a career development loan are around 9.9 per cent, cheap by comparison with unsecured lending but by all other counts pretty darn high. With the prospect of such unappealing repayments, it is unsurprising more and more postgraduates are choosing to split their studies part time and working alongside them. And that’s only if the course allows it.
So considering the ever growing monetary burden of a second degree, why did UCAS report a record number of postgraduate applications this year? It’s pretty simple really: the sticky black web of the job market. With so many highly qualified, capable graduates flooding the scene, making yourself stand out has become key. It’s no longer a case of being an interesting person. You’re a cage fighting poet who restores WWII tanks in your spare time? Not good enough.
The key to dodging the unemployment bullet is now a master’s, heck why not a PhD too. As the number of unemployed new graduates rises, the value of the undergraduate degree decreases. For those of us who took the decision to study an arts subject this is magnified further. I might as well state on my CV, “I know this degree has no practical application but, let me tell you, I had a GREAT time.”
Employers have the pick of the bunch and they’re going to make the most of it. When faced with so many tantalisingly over qualified potential employees, why wouldn’t they? Unfortunately that leaves the rest of us with GCSEs, A-Levels and degrees that just aren’t quite enough. Whether we’re being priced out or not, the pressure on new graduates to gain further qualifications is growing.
So what for those who decide against further financial drain? How else can we stand out from the crowd? Ah yes – the internship. That old fruit. With so few jobs and so many unemployed, we find ourselves part of a growing culture that encourages unpaid work under the guise of professional development. Organisations need staff but they can’t afford them, people need jobs but can’t get them. The result is an influx of unpaid interns.
Traditionally an internship provided a structured training programme that more often than not offered paid employment at its conclusion. An internship benefitted both intern and employer, providing training and development to prepare both for eventual employment. For some lucky people this is still the case, but for most, it has evolved into long hours slaving under the iron fist of a sweaty browed, tight-trousered buffoon who can’t be bothered to do his filing.
Instead of a scheme of structured development, days are spent going on cupcake runs (yes, really) for borderline sociopaths who address themselves in the third person and would struggle to pick out your face let alone your name. And don’t even entertain the idea of employment at the end of it; this is purely for the pleasure of “experience on your CV”. Such a system is not only exploitative but also brazenly elitist, because few young people – not even entrepreneurial printer cartridge vendors – could realistically maintain financial independence without an income.
For now we seem to be a little stuck – stuck in a murky pool of unemployment quick sand with the only way out ending in almost certain financial ruin. And there doesn’t appear to be any sign of that changing. Until the government takes steps to change the pitiful higher education funding system and put an end to internship programmes that both exploit and exclude, young people will continue to fight a losing financial battle.
So we are faced with a decision: take the crippling financial hit and undertake further studies? Or face the job market without, driving out applications for months, even years, until someone opens a (menial administrative) door for you? Personally I’m opting for the latter. Right now, the thousands I have already amassed in undergraduate debt will be quite enough. For me, unlike my sticky-shoed friend, there’s no going back.
Image from: http://06880danwoog.com/2009/08/24/the-library-listens/
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