Teenagers are increasingly the focus of the government’s metaphor of The Broken Society. The summer riots by ‘feral youths’ devoid of morality is the ultimate expression of this alienated subculture. If only young people were to help build the big society then all our futures would look brighter.
Contrary to this view of the youth of today, I see quite the opposite – students struggling to make ends meet following the scrapping of the education maintenance allowance (EMA); students worried about their future with record levels of youth unemployment.
Against this, the traditional escape route for many working-class youngsters is increasingly seen as a trap: a university degree is no longer the vehicle of social mobility it was for my generation. The prospect of paying up to £50,000 for a degree with no guarantee of a job makes some of the statistics on graduate earnings ring hollow. It may have been the case that the difference between graduate lifetime earnings and those of a school leaver was over £500,000, but I suspect that it is no longer.
The consequence of this is fewer people going to college, reflected in the majority of local colleges with reductions in enrolment. Fewer students are also applying to university.
Havant College is bucking the trend, with enrolments up 15 per cent this year, but this has not been achieved without cost. We are investing disproportionate funds to replace the EMA. The rising costs of transport and loss of family income has affected hundreds of our students.
But they remain surprisingly optimistic. They are ambitious, responsible, and spend an inordinate amount of time helping others.
This generation is not lost, it is simply in need of our support, guidance and direction – a challenge we adults have sadly failed to meet.