CBI report: "Don't study arts at Uni! Also, higher fees are putting students off."

CBI disagree with Michael Gove over impact of higher tuition fees

Today's CBI report (pdf) into education and skills in the workplace is largely focused on relations between employers and schools:

51 per cent of the surveyed provided careers advice. Despite this, 68 per cent said that the general quality of advice was still not good enough. More than 60 per cent of respondents said they would like to play a greater role in delivering careers advice.

In other areas, more than 70 per cent of employers provided work experience to students and around 29 per cent of them acted as governors.

As a result, it has been mostly reported as an attack on schools. See, for example, the Telegraph's story, headlined "School leavers 'unable to function in the workplace'":

Figures show that 42 per cent of companies now stage lessons in core subjects because young people are unable to function in the workplace.

The Confederation of British Industry said that too many school leavers struggled to write to the necessary standard, employ basic numeracy or use a computer properly.

Almost two-thirds of business leaders also said that teenagers were failing to develop vital skills such as self-management and timekeeping at school.

But one of the most interesting chapters is instead the one focusing on university graduates.

Some of the data will be a blow to students studying... well, anything other than science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM), really:

Starting salaries also exhibit a marked pro-STEM bias, with just three types of job showing an increase in earnings over the last year: legal, scientific and engineering.

There's also a slight embarassment for the government buried in the chapter. Back when the notorious rise in tuition fees was first being talked about, in November 2010, the goverment's line was clear. Michael Gove, for instance, told the Today Programme:

I believe that [higher fees] won't put off students. They will make a rational decision on the benefits that accrue to them [from going to university].

19 months on, and with the first cohort just about to head to university, it is clear that CBI members don't share the government's optimism. A third of all respondents are planning to increase the number of routes through which school leavers can enter their business without having to go to university. Among the largest employers (with moret than 5,000 employees), two thirds are expanding those routes.

In addition, 63 per cent of employers expect the graduate market to change substantially in the coming years, and are preparing for a number of different impacts:

At least a third, and up to two thirds, of businesses believe what most people believe: that higher tuition fees have likely put students off applying to university. While this is certainly true for this years intake, we'll only know the full story once the applications for the 2013 cohort are released. If they stay low, it could be a black eye for the government.

Students receive their A-level results. Everyone knows boys are not allowed to jump in the air. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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