50% student target key to a successful economic strategy

A dynamic and flexible labour market has the ability to quickly adapt. More, not less graduates, is the key to this successful economic strategy.

The government’s ambition to get 50 per cent of young people into higher education has come under fire from graduate employers. The Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), a body representing graduate employers, has called for the target to be scrapped, arguing that it has “driven down standards and devalued the currency of a degree and damaged the quality of the university experience”.

Its chief executive Carl Gilleard declares it should be part of a process to “reaffirm the value of a degree”. Though he is right in pushing for a renewed focus to improve higher education standards and educational quality, he is wrong in identifying the 50 per cent participation goal as an inhibiting factor.

Firstly, having a larger graduate pool benefits the British economy. In the past few decades we have gone through some major national and geo-political changes, which have redefined the nature of our economy.

Our future is a high-skilled and knowledge based economy, which is a world leader in intellectual and technology-based industries. This requires more, not less graduates, particularly with rising economic powers China and India producing graduates annually en masse.

Higher numbers of skilled graduates make the British economy more competitive. With record numbers attending University and applying for jobs, our labour market is one of the strongest in the world. The talent on offer is high. This helps attract foreign investment and inward trade, boosting our economic growth.

Additionally our strong labour market has helped businesses enjoy higher levels of productivity and standards in the calibre of employees. This in turn benefits UK PLC as graduates have higher earnings and income potential than non-graduates, raising GDP.

AGR’s report runs counter to our push for social mobility. Allowing and encouraging more people to acquire some form of higher education is a basic necessity in improving life chances for those from poorer and more disadvantaged backgrounds. With the advent of a knowledge-based economy, tertiary education and qualifications are of paramount importance in securing professional success, and should not be curtailed.

The long-term prospects for the British economy are more secure with a bigger graduate workforce, as powerful global forces can quickly re-define the nature of markets and economic relations. A dynamic and flexible labour market has the ability to quickly adapt. More, not less graduates, is the key to this successful economic strategy.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.