‘We’re expecting 35 per cent graduate unemployment. The government should step in,’ says Labour

‘They’re offering nothing for graduates at all’

Labour has called on the government to do more for students and grads, saying 35 per cent of grads could end up without a job.

Speaking after Labour wrote to the government outlining “seven tests” on universities, Emma Hardy, the party’s Shadow Universities Minister, said: “We’re expecting around 35 per cent graduate unemployment. The government should be stepping in”.

In an interview with The Tab, Hardy also said students have a case for getting tuition fee refunds “if they haven’t been given quality lectures, if they’ve had a really poor experience.”

Picture via Parliament.uk under CC BY 3.0 license

It was a chance for Labour, facing four years until the next general election, to set out what it wants to do for students who’ve suffered in the coronavirus crisis.

However, there was no mention of tuition fee refunds in Labour’s letter. Despite over 350,000 students signing a petition demanding money back, it’s not part of the “immediate situation”, said Hardy.

The letter “was more about the immediate COVID-19 crisis and setting out Labour’s policy for the manifesto. And that was really the only reason that wasn’t put in there,” Hardy told The Tab.

But when pressed, Hardy said she “couldn’t give a generic answer” on refunds. In a situation where someone was getting barely any lectures, Hardy said: “I can totally see where they’re coming from.”

Instead, on fee refunds, it seems Labour are looking to paint the issue as a symptom of systemic malaise. “The government are failing to fund universities properly, it puts universities in this really precarious situation,” said Hardy. “I can see why the university would be reluctant to offer refunds because they’re in such a vulnerable situation economically.
“From a student’s point of view, if you’re paying an awful lot of money for something, you’re getting a poor product. And that’s not fair either,” said Hardy, adding the conflict puts grads who might want refunds in an “impossible position”.

“It’s a completely unfair system. It puts the emphasis on individual students.”

A huge source of frustration for students has been the uncertainty over what uni will look like in September, with little concrete information being given by unis. Hardy says that, whilst a lot of it depends on the state of the COVID outbreak in the Autumn, students deserve clarity, and that unis “at least need to say to students, this is what you will experience September until January and then we’ll be able to review it.”

Labour’s letter also calls on the government to introduce a specific work experience scheme for grads. Despite Labour’s claims that “the government has offered nothing”, Labour’s suggestion bears a similarity to the government’s new “Kickstart” scheme of paid work experience for 16-24s.

In Labour’s mind, however, this doesn’t go far enough. “It’s not graduate specific,” says Hardy, and wouldn’t cover mature students or allow grads to get into their chosen profession.

“I think they should be able to access some form of graduate scheme to support them further, which the government fails to do.

“We’re expecting around 35 per cent graduate unemployment. The government should be stepping in.

“They’ve done this for apprenticeships, they’re doing this for young people, but they’re offering nothing for graduates at all. And I really think that’s important.”

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