Article: Why graduates face big challenges in a modern economy

Alongside increases in tuition fees, there was a lot of moaning and grumbling about the lack of jobs available for graduates.  Having seen my parents and their peers work incredibly hard to pave the way for our generation, I was growing frustrated at the sense of entitlement that graduates felt – especially given the rise in the number of graduates since 1997.  I felt I had to share my story but also put forth some home truths about graduate employment.

Published on The Vibe.

In my short five and a bit year career, which has taken me from banking and wealth management through to local government and some freelance writing work, I’ve met a qualified orthopaedic surgeon who earns money by cleaning up people’s litter and regurgitated beer at the O2 arena; I’ve met a qualified International Corporate Law graduate who doubles up as a security guard and a qualified pharmacist who unloads lorry-loads of clothes for brands such as Abercrombie, GAP and H&M.


I even know someone who, throughout university, worked 3 days a week and transferred to full-time during the holidays, studying mainly in the evenings and weekends.  Despite not holding a requisite 2.1, was on a graduate programme at a big FTSE-100 company mainly because of his previous experience and, after being made redundant aged 24, found a job again within 3 months in a completely unrelated field earning a salary higher than his previous job, signing up to do a Masters degree while working full-time and commuting almost 2 hours a day to his new place of work.


Throughout my life, I’ve seen what panic is.  My father, for example, came back to Britain in 1992 after a failed move abroad, found his house was repossessed and a wife and kid to look after, with another one popping up 2 years later.  I recall the Fridays where he’d work from 7am to 7pm, before heading out for his 9pm to 9am shift, getting his sleep and starting the next shift from 7pm to 7am from Saturday.  He worked like this for 15 years until he and I were able to buy a property together and I requested him to stop working his fingers to the bone for the sake of his family as we no longer needed to rent anymore.


The orthopaedic surgeon, my brother-in-law, arrived here a year ago with a view to completing a Masters in Surgical Sciences and lives with his wife and four year old son in a room behind a dry cleaners as his course alone is costing him upwards of £27,000 – and he’s been saving money in Bangladesh.


Graduates, like Reni Eddo-Lodge, in the UK can feel aggrieved for apparently having been sold a lie – get a degree, get a job, you’ll be fine.  But it astounds me to know that so many graduates seem to be oblivious to the world around them despite their apparent higher level of intellect and ability.  Why did they believe that this would be the case in the first place? If there are more and more graduates coming out every year, did nobody step out and think that the value of them as graduates alone will never be enough?


With reports coming out of the number of students that didn’t get a place at university, it concerns me that university is still seen as an indicator of our future success.  Of course graduates are important but surely some attention needs to be given to those who will be entrepreneurial as our economy stagnates? What about those who will build on the slow progress being made by the manufacturing sectors here?


Graduates abroad, like China and India, are part of a journey of tremendous economic and social progress.  Graduates in the UK find themselves in an environment where a lot needs to be done but no one seems to have the initiative to lead from the front as they expected an easy ride.  But more than anything, with successive governments having very little idea of the social and economic direction of the country, new graduates have the opportunity to shape so much.


The protests are just the beginning.  Instead of panicking and looking bitterly at the lack of leadership around them, graduates can come together and be a force of tremendous change, instigating a new wave of economic growth and social stability.  Much of what you learn at university is quickly forgotten unless you go directly into a career that exercises that degree in the first place (such as medicine or law) but, even then, you need to pass numerous professional qualifications to reach industry standards.


Viewing the graduate population as the ‘lost generation’ is scaremongering and a lazy view of how society and the world works.  This is not the first time the graduate population will suffer as the economy goes through a critical juncture and it certainly will not be the last.


Article: A way to separate vocational courses from true academia

I was about two months into my Masters at Birkbeck College and, for the first time, really enjoying studying for the sake of studying.  I knew I had to sit exams in a few months and write a dissertation at some point but it didn’t elicit the same feelings of despair as it did when I was at school or during my undergraduate degree.  I put it down to my starting the Masters with a few years professional experience under my belt and that I’d chosen a subject I was genuinely interested in – not for its potential to land me a nice job.

The media was awash with debate about university fees being plugged at £9,000 and understandably so.  But the reaction of most suggested that everybody was entitled to a university education because that’s what got you a job.  I wanted to separate the “university as job centre” from “university as…well…university”.

You can find the original article by clicking here

My grandmother got married in Bangladesh at the age of 14, and devoted herself to her seven children and lawyer husband. He always encouraged her to read, but it was only after East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971 that she decided to fulfil her dream of studying. When she passed away in 1988, she was midway through her PhD in Bangla literature (the works of Rabindranath TagoreKazi Nazrul Islamand Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay were among those she explored). For her, studying at university was simply about the value of learning.

For my parents, who emigrated to the UK in their teens in the mid-70s, university education was viewed as a passport to financial and social security for their children.

Both arguments – that university is about the joy of learning, and that university is a path to a job – have solid foundations. But recent commentary about rising tuition fees has been framed entirely on the basis of the latter argument.

To know whether the fees are fair, it makes sense to understand what is being paid for. A suggestion on Cif last week – to offer a free degree at 25 and 45 – is both arbitrary and impractical in a society that firmly views university as a job preparation centre.

Rather like the way banks are being encouraged to separate their retail and investment banking businesses, I would argue that universities should make a clear distinction between the research and academic element of their existence and the vocational.

Instead of handing out pens and branded bags at pointless careers fairs, employers – the main beneficiaries of good graduates – can do far more practical things. Employers from within industry and across the sectors should come together to form industry-specific consortiums. Universities from across the country would be associated directly with the consortiums.

There are two key innovations here. First, students would apply directly to the consortium, listing their preferences of university (factors such as geographical location and living expenses could feature in their decision-making process) and second, the degrees on offer would be consortium-led but harness the value of the universities collectively. The degrees would have a distinctly professional feel to them, with courses contributing to industry-specific qualifications and skills. The employers would naturally prefer to recruit students from within the consortium and students would not be expected to disclose their university – rather, the knowledge and skills gained on the courses would determine their employability.

Students would pay a “membership fee” to the university, while any further payments for the course would be taken post-employment and after a certain income threshold for a limited number of years. The membership fee itself would have numerous concessions, some means-tested and some linked to involvement in university life – such as clubs, societies or even taking on “employment” within the university in the bars or administrative work of the department. Employers from across the industries – law, accountancy, media, medicine, retail and more – could make direct and focused contributions to higher education.

Separately, universities would focus mainly on their research capabilities, where the ongoing issue of funding for research would prevail. However, they will not be under pressure to show meaningless statistics about student employability or some other arbitrary target of what constitutes a good university. Instead, this part of the university would offer degree courses that are directly designed by the university to reflect their research aims and expertise. This way, students applying would be encouraged to seek the university’s key research qualities and would recognise the academic rigour that would be expected. The money would come from government, industry and research bodies both within and beyond our shores and is likely to go further if spent mainly on academic research.

We are in danger of creating generations that will provide employees but no thinkers or intellectuals who have spent their life asking questions and researching solutions. A separation of the two functions would allow those that view university as a jobcentre to treat is as such, while allowing academics to reclaim its original meaning – universitas magistrorum et scholarium (a community of teachers and scholars) and remove the perception that university is a necessary rite of passage to greater success.