Cutting back on university places will create a lost generation

150,000 students have made the grade but will be denied a place. What does the government expect the

The regular New Statesman columnist Professor David Blanchflower warned last week that youth unemployment was on the increase and would soon pass the one million mark. Things look bleak indeed for a young generation at real risk of being lost.

In the light of this, this year's A-level results day takes on a particularly gloomy significance. It is already clear that at least 150,000 students with both the grades and the desire to begin studying at university in the coming year will be left without a place.

There were approximately 600,000 university applicants in total this year; this means that at least a quarter of all applicants will be shut out.

Thus far, the government's response to the crisis has been fit only for the birds: frustrated applicants have been left to peck at crumbs.

Of course, applying to university is a competitive process. But these are applicants who have worked hard to achieve grades that would, in any other circumstances, get them a university place. Now they find that the goalposts have been moved to somewhere else altogether, and it's out of their control.

Crucially, this limit on places is not out of necessity; the restrictions on university places are being achieved through an entirely arbitrary cap on student numbers, which is itself being enforced through a government threat to fine any university that ends up oversubscribed.

Many universities have complained that they may even be left with spare capacity once term starts, and that the threat of government fines prevents them from over-recruiting slightly at this stage in order to compensate for the inevitable quotient of students who drop out between now and the start of term.

This is both morally unacceptable and economically short-sighted. These young people are being denied an opportunity to study at university, with all the value that that holds, including the increased work and career opportunities that a university education affords.

Hatchet job

Sadly, given the state of the economy, compounded by the government's actions -- in cutting the Future Jobs Fund, breaking up the Connexions service, and savagely cutting further education, for example -- many of these young people will start their working lives by signing on.

This can be devastating -- as Blanchflower noted in a piece for the Guardian back in March, "Unemployment while young creates permanent scars rather than temporary blemishes." All the evidence suggests that a spell of unemployment for a young person does not end with that spell, but raises the probability of that person being unemployed in later years, aty the same time as introducing a permanent "wage penalty".

Nor does this seem to make economic sense. Why prevent someone from going to university, when he or she is qualified, willing and able, citing the cost of supporting that person's education, but then spend government money a couple of months later to pay them a jobseeker's allowance? As we look towards the medium and longer term, would we rather have extra graduates -- components parts in the engine of our economic recovery -- or young people who have suffered "permanent scars"?

More widely, there are clearly grave problems with a system that is unable to support the hundreds of thousands of applicants who have "made the grade", and one that leaves a quarter of applicants without a place. Ministers must think seriously about how we can fund our higher education system in a way that is fair, progressive and sustainable (as with, for example, our progressive graduate contribution). The top-up fees model is clearly not working.

In the meantime, ministers must make clear what they expect these young people who have been denied the chance to study at university to do instead, and explain what they are going to do to help them. If not, they risk creating a lost generation whose life chances have been ruined, and whose legacy will leave permanent scars on our economy and our society. They would not be forgiven for doing so.

Aaron Porter is the president of the National Union of Students. He studied English literature at the University of Leicester and served as a sabbatical officer at the students' union.

Getty Images
Show Hide image

Is there such a thing as responsible betting?

Punters are encouraged to bet responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly.

I try not to watch the commercials between matches, or the studio discussions, or anything really, before or after, except for the match itself. And yet there is one person I never manage to escape properly – Ray Winstone. His cracked face, his mesmerising voice, his endlessly repeated spiel follow me across the room as I escape for the lav, the kitchen, the drinks cupboard.

I’m not sure which betting company he is shouting about, there are just so many of them, offering incredible odds and supposedly free bets. In the past six years, since the laws changed, TV betting adverts have increased by 600 per cent, all offering amazingly simple ways to lose money with just one tap on a smartphone.

The one I hate is the ad for BetVictor. The man who has been fronting it, appearing at windows or on roofs, who I assume is Victor, is just so slimy and horrible.

Betting firms are the ultimate football parasites, second in wealth only to kit manufacturers. They have perfected the capitalist’s art of using OPM (Other People’s Money). They’re not directly involved in football – say, in training or managing – yet they make millions off the back of its popularity. Many of the firms are based offshore in Gibraltar.

Football betting is not new. In the Fifties, my job every week at five o’clock was to sit beside my father’s bed, where he lay paralysed with MS, and write down the football results as they were read out on Sports Report. I had not to breathe, make silly remarks or guess the score. By the inflection in the announcer’s voice you could tell if it was an away win.

Earlier in the week I had filled in his Treble Chance on the Littlewoods pools. The “treble” part was because you had three chances: three points if the game you picked was a score draw, two for a goalless draw and one point for a home or away win. You chose eight games and had to reach 24 points, or as near as possible, then you were in the money.

“Not a damn sausage,” my father would say every week, once I’d marked and handed him back his predictions. He never did win a sausage.

Football pools began in the 1920s, the main ones being Littlewoods and Vernons, both based in Liverpool. They gave employment to thousands of bright young women who checked the results and sang in company choirs in their spare time. Each firm spent millions on advertising. In 1935, Littlewoods flew an aeroplane over London with a banner saying: Littlewoods Above All!

Postwar, they blossomed again, taking in £50m a year. The nation stopped at five on a Saturday to hear the scores, whether they were interested in football or not, hoping to get rich. BBC Sports Report began in 1948 with John Webster reading the results. James Alexander Gordon took over in 1974 – a voice soon familiar throughout the land.

These past few decades, football pools have been left behind, old-fashioned, low-tech, replaced by online betting using smartphones. The betting industry has totally rebooted itself. You can bet while the match is still on, trying to predict who will get the next goal, the next corner, the next throw-in. I made the last one up, but in theory you can bet instantly, on anything, at any time.

The soft sell is interesting. With the old football pools, we knew it was a remote flutter, hoping to make some money. Today the ads imply that betting on football somehow enhances the experience, adds to the enjoyment, involves you in the game itself, hence they show lads all together, drinking and laughing and putting on bets.

At the same time, punters are encouraged to do it responsibly. What a laugh that is. It’s like encouraging drunks to get drunk responsibly, to crash our cars responsibly, murder each other responsibly. Responsibly and respect are now two of the most meaningless words in the football language. People have been gambling, in some form, since the beginning, watching two raindrops drip down inside the cave, lying around in Roman bathhouses playing games. All they’ve done is to change the technology. You have to respect that.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war