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Graduate Job Prospects

Volume 496: debated on Thursday 16 July 2009

8. What steps he is taking to assist students graduating in the summer of 2009 to find employment. (287056)

These are undoubtedly tough times for graduates, but we should not forget that a degree remains a strong investment. Businesses are continuing to recruit through the downturn, and the Government are obviously committed to helping graduates. Working with employers and universities, we are boosting the number of internships and offering more loans to support further studies, so graduates should remain positive in difficult times.

Recently, there was an announcement of 1,000 new jobs, training places and internships in the west midlands, and young people, their parents and their lecturers in my constituency and in the wider west midlands certainly welcome that. In Dudley, however, we are already suffering the effects of a botched school closure programme and a failure to take up Building Schools for the Future. What future does my hon. Friend foresee for the young people in my constituency if they are to suffer possible cuts alongside that idiosyncratic education policy?

I know that my hon. Friend is a keen advocate for the young people in her constituency, and I am very pleased that internships are coming up in the west midlands for them. It is important to get that regional spread. She will be aware of the September guarantee to ensure that young people in her constituency are offered training or guaranteed a job, should they face unemployment. The Government are doing all they can, working across the Departments, to support young people, because we do not want to see a lost generation, as we saw in previous downturns.

Graduation parties taking place around the country at the moment are not the joyful occasions that some of us might remember, as graduates discuss their miserable job prospects. Yesterday, we heard the announcement of the Government’s aspirations for green jobs and a greener economy, but we cannot meet our 2020 climate change targets without investment in skills—particularly in our engineering base—or without innovation. Would now not be a good time to ensure that all new graduates in physics and maths have a good chance of getting on to a research programme? At the moment, two thirds of such applications are turned down.

That is why we are supporting the innovation fund, which the Minister for Science and Innovation, my noble Friend Lord Drayson, brought forward. That is also why we made the announcements yesterday on low-carbon jobs. And that is why we have established knowledge transfer partnerships to support young people, particularly those doing post-doctorate studies, working with businesses, often in low-carbon areas. All of this is going on because we have balanced and managed funding for higher education, which is something that the Liberal Democrats have yet to commit to.

Many proud parents will be attending their children’s graduation ceremonies this week; indeed, I am one of them. I can report to the Minister that there is a lot of concern about the job prospects for graduates. Why does not he back the proposal that we have put forward to ensure that there are more opportunities for young graduates to go on to do taught masters courses at university? We have identified specific savings this year to make that opportunity available for 25,000 graduates. Is that not far better than his tiny internship scheme, which does nothing to match the scale of the problem, when one in five young people are now unemployed?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman; this must be a wonderful time for his family. May I also remind him that we have seen a massive increase in masters courses and other postgraduate study over the past 13 years? The figures are up, not by 30 per cent. or 60 per cent., but by 90 per cent., and 450,000 young people are now in postgraduate study, 350,000 of whom are studying STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—subjects. The Opposition’s proposal is a little bit too late.