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Young People: Alternatives to University — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:59 pm on 23rd October 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Turner of Camden Baroness Turner of Camden Labour 3:59 pm, 23rd October 2014

My Lords, I too would like to thank my noble friend for introducing this debate. As every noble Lord has said, it is on a very important subject that is not often discussed this fully. It is a great pity that while many young people would like to go university, they often fail to get there. For poorer families, the cost is far too great. An article published recently in the Times alleged that a child would have to start saving from birth to have enough money to meet the costs of a university education. Of course, those in power over us—Prime Ministers, Chancellors and leading Ministers—have virtually all been to university, a point that is not lost on the young people who want to go. We are an advanced society so we really must arrange for people to have access to training in order to participate and to be able to obtain the sort of jobs they need. A number of speakers in the debate have indicated that there is a shortage of skilled people and we have to do something about that.

Many references have been made during the course of the debate to apprenticeship schemes. I am very glad that these have now been accorded a great deal of eminence and I hope that they will be improved upon. Of course, most of those who talked about them did not feel that they are as effective as they ought to be and that they should be developed. Improvements are being made through the introduction of technical colleges, but obviously a great deal more needs to be done in that direction. I am particularly concerned about the effect on women, a point that has also been made. Many years ago, when I was a member of the Equal Opportunities Commission, I remember that we introduced the WISE campaign, which stood for Women Into Science and Engineering. We had some success with it. We went to talk to schools and parents and we tried to persuade them that the study of engineering and of science generally was an appropriate way to ensure that girls would be trained. We now have women scientists and engineers, and that used not to be the case in the old days. That is the result of the successful campaigns we ran then, and there is no reason why we should not build upon what we achieved.

Many speakers have referred to the trade union movement, which has a long record of assisting people so far as education is concerned. Certainly a number of my parliamentary colleagues owe the fact that they have had a good education to their having won trade union scholarships, in many cases to Ruskin College. But it is not only a question of awarding scholarships; the unions have also been assisting in providing training in other ways. The TUC’s Unionlearn team has already found some success in providing training for those who missed out earlier in life. Many employers respect what the unions have done in this regard and have been willing to assist in ensuring that union members receive proper training. That is an important issue so far as trade union membership is concerned. My own union, Unite, has been deeply involved in pushing for better arrangements for people to be trained in the more advanced industries, in which there is alleged to be a shortage of suitable employees.

I hope that, as a result of our debates today and some of the recommendations that have been made by noble Lords, we are making some progress in a difficult area. We need to involve ourselves in helping young people, who need our help and assistance if they are to participate in training. Our two debates interlock: the first spent a lot of time, quite legitimately, on the whole issue of housing and housing poverty. We have young people who do not have proper housing and live in very crowded circumstances. It is not easy for them to study and to try to get into training schemes. That is all part of the problem that we have been discussing today.

I hope that the Government take seriously some of the suggestions that have been made. We need a framework in which young people can be assisted and trained for the future. It matters to all of us, not only to the young people themselves—it is important to the rest of society. I thank my noble friend for introducing the debate and I hope that the suggestions that have been made by a number of people are seriously considered by the Government.