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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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear