Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: We can't create a lost generation

S pare a thought for the thousands of young people who tomorrow will see their dreams of entering third level education end in heartbreak.

Just 150 places are still to be filled at Northern Ireland's two universities through the clearance process, but that will go nowhere near satisfying the demand.

They are victims, not of their own inability, but of an education system which is performing unsatisfactorily.

In England tuition fees are due to triple in the 2012/13 academic year, meaning that more and more students from here will want to stay at home, but there just are not sufficient places at the two universities to cater for the potential intake.

Incidentally, the Executive is the only devolved administration which has yet to formally set tuition fee levels for the local universities, even though it has ruled out massive increases as in England.

Enabling young people to go to university is a sign of a mature and cultured society and the authorities must examine the current system to see how it can be improved to cater for all those students who would benefit from third level education. University is not just a bonus for the students who go there but for the whole economy as they are the well-educated workforce needed for tomorrow.

So what is to happen to those who don't get a university place? The signs in these recessionary times are not good.

Unemployment among 18-24 year-olds in Northern Ireland stands at more than 17%, leading to fears of a lost generation. Part of the problem is that vocational training, the teaching of technical skills and the creation of apprenticeships do not seem to have either the value of past times or the investment in them to ensure that young people are equipped with the skills needed by employers.

That is a problem which needs to be addressed urgently so that all our young people can feel valued and capable of contributing to their own, and society's, future well-being.

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