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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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.