Graduate prospects are rising, but for some it's too late. Photo: Christopher Furlong, Getty
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Graduate prospects are improving, but some may already have left Britain for good

The UK's graduate job market is getting better, but Britain may already have lost a selection of its most talented youth to foreign climes.

Finally some good news for British graduates: employers expect to hire 18 per cent more university leavers this year as the economy continues to strengthen.

The bullish prospects for the graduate job market were revealed in an annual report by employment researcher Incomes Data Services (IDS) and will come as a boost to recent university leavers and students sitting finals this summer.

For many of those who graduated in the depths of the recession over the past few years, however, the upturn has come far too late. Certainly many of my peers have given up on gunning for an elusive graduate job in Britain, deterred by relentless rejection. With more than 60 applications for every vacancy last year according to IDS, you can hardly blame them.

Abandoning a fruitless and demoralising job hunt in the UK rarely means neglecting the search altogether, however: the favoured solution for many graduates has been simply to hop abroad. Figures published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency last year reveal that one in ten British graduates emigrates for work.

The general trend towards emigration certainly appears to be on the rise in the UK. Statistics published by the Office for National Statistics last summer indicate that the number of UK citizens flocking abroad each year has increased by a fifth under the Coalition, to reach 154,000 a year. The trend for emigration among Brits is clearly an upwards one, and the brain drain appears strongest among recent graduates.

So where are young Brits relocating? As the economic powerhouse of Europe, Germany is a natural option for many British émigrés. Boasting a strong economy and a youth unemployment rate of just 7.7 per cent, according to the latest figures released by Eurostat last month, opportunities are far more plentiful than in the UK. The start up culture in Berlin, in modern times a thriving tech hub, holds a particularly strong draw for cyber savvy grads.

Even more enticing than that, however, is the comparatively cheap cost of living. Rental prices in London are a staggering 175 per cent more expensive than in Berlin, according to city price comparison site Numbeo. Eating out in London is 50 per cent more expensive, and groceries 30 per cent more costly, than in Berlin. The nub of it is that you can afford to have a much better time on a far lower wage in the German capital than in the British one.

That, in essence, seems to be the key to the British trend of graduate emigration: a better quality of life overseas for less money. The analogy does not only hold true for Berlin, where the rental market is especially cheap and the job market strong. Young Brits are also heading to southern European nations with weaker economies, because whether or not they can win better jobs, they can certainly live more pleasant lives in countless Mediterranean destinations.

With unemployment among 15 to 24 year olds higher than 50 per cent in Spain, according to Eurostat, promising career opportunities may look scarce, for example, but at least the rent and sangria are cheap in most Spanish cities (compared to the UK) and there is the glamour of sunshine and the excitement of new experiences.

Of course working behind a bar may not have been the dream while reading, say, anthropology at Durham, but at least doing it in an exotic new environment abroad beats being stuck in Blighty, having moved back in with your parents.

Start-up costs for a new life abroad can be as low as you are dare – no one could call it lavish to buy a one-way flight on a low-cost airline and book a stranger’s sofa via Couchsurfing. Europe's open border policies also make the bureaucratic element of moving abroad a doddle in most instances.

The emigration trend is unlikely to reverse soon, because young Brits do not appear to recognise that their career prospects are improving at home. According to a recent survey by Small Earth, a youth travel and work organisation, perception of the job market in Britain remains poor, with more than half (54 per cent) of young people deeming the UK job market “bad” and less than 30 per cent ranking it as “good”.

Almost all of my friends who have moved abroad are having a thrilling time, with few planning to return home anytime soon. It makes me wonder, will the generation of graduates who have sought their fortunes abroad end up returning to British shores at all?

 

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.

 

Photo: Getty
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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.