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 Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.