Government accused of offering ‘nothing’ to graduates entering tough jobs market

The Government has failed to offer final-year university students entering a “severely depressed” jobs market any support, Labour has said.

The party is calling on the Government to meet seven key tests to ensure that recent graduates and students get the support they need and British universities do not go bust as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

Ministers should guarantee that university hardship funds are “sufficiently resourced and accessible” to students who may face further debt due to the pandemic, Labour said.

General Election 2019
Shadow universities minister Emma Hardy has reiterated her call to the Government to prevent institutions from going bankrupt due to Covid-19 (Danny Lawson/PA)

Shadow minister for further education and universities Emma Hardy reiterated her call to the Government to prevent institutions from going bankrupt due to Covid-19.

It comes after an Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) report earlier this month warned that more than a dozen universities could be at risk of insolvency without a Government bailout.

Last week, the Government unveiled plans to allow universities in England in danger of going bust to apply for emergency loans – but the proposals said “not all providers will be prevented from exiting the market”.

In a letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, Ms Hardy said: “It is a matter for concern then that your recent public comments have thrown doubt on your commitment to the sector and the benefits it brings to all parts of society and that the Higher Education Restructuring Regime plans begin by explicitly stating a willingness on behalf of yourself to see individual universities fail.”

She warned: “The loss of any individual university will create dead zones for local access to higher education and no university should be allowed to go bust.”

Labour is calling on the Government to “prevent further financial hardship” for students and to offer comprehensive support for 2020 graduates.

Ms Hardy wrote: “The jobs market they enter will be severely depressed. They cannot be left to flounder.

“Proposals from the sector include a system of six-month long paid internships at the national living wage which would allow graduates to gain invaluable experience. So far the Government has offered nothing.”

Ms Hardy spoke to students on Thursday ahead of Labour’s campaign launch to hear the challenges they have been facing in light of the pandemic and how they can be better supported.

“By passing these seven key tests the Government will show commitment to our higher education sector, to our young people, and to our regional economies,” she said. “Meeting these tests will help guarantee a fairer society and allow aspiration to flourish.”

Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), warned that the knock-on effect on the local community of a university going bust “would be catastrophic”.

She said: “The Government needs to provide a serious support package for universities to protect jobs and safeguard students’ futures.

“Anything less would be a betrayal of the staff and students that have worked so hard during the current crisis, and leave the sector ill-equipped to help lead the country’s recovery.”

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