In the first in a series of articles on the future of higher education in post-Brexit Britain, we look at graduate job prospects at home and abroad.

Job prospects at home and abroad

In the lead up to the EU Referendum this year, our thoughts turned to what would happen to graduate job prospects in the event of a ‘leave’ vote. The Independent ran a story that claimed ‘Half of the country’s top graduate employers will be forced to reduce their recruitment intake if Britain votes to leave the EU’, due to the potential impact on the economy, general uncertainty and a lack of vital EU graduates.

Now that the vote has taken place, and Brits have voted to leave the EU, the main concern on the minds of most current and future students is the likelihood of getting employment once they graduate. The vote to leave the European Union will certainly have an impact on graduate job prospects, but until Article 50 is triggered it will be hard to tell exactly what that impact will be.

The Prospects website has suggested that 2016 graduates will face a tougher jobs market than their recent predecessors, with more of them entering non-graduate jobs that don’t have as high requirements because there will be a shortage in jobs for people coming out of higher education. Also, next year’s graduates might find it even harder still, because Article 50 is likely to be triggered in 2017 and this will lead to even more uncertainty and lower rates of employment. Employers are likely to want to save money - by not hiring untested graduates or even by making current employees redundant.

One of the main reasons pro-Brexit voters gave for leaving the EU was to create a stronger border and reduce the amount of migrants coming into Britain to work - but any restrictions on this are likely to work the other way around, too. As discussed in The Guardian, the most likely outcomes are:

  1. Britain joins a European Economic Area (like Norway did) which will maintain the single market and allow graduates to continue to move freely through and work in Europe - but this solution is often seen as a “we pay but we have no say” solution, so unlikely to be popular with Brexit voters.

  2. Britain completely leaves the EU and the single market, in which case visas would be required to work in European countries. Graduates and highly-skilled workers would be prioritised over low-skilled labourers but there’s always a risk of rejection.

  3. Britain leaves the single market but makes a freedom of movement agreement with the EU. This is unlikely to happen because Switzerland made this agreement, but then voted to introduce quotas on migrants from the EU from 2014 onwards.

The best outcome for graduates wanting employment either at home or abroad is likely to be Britain joining a European Economic area. Access to the single market and the continued freedom of movement would ensure that large companies keep hiring a reasonable level of UK and EU graduates - but at this moment in time we simply don’t know what type of agreement Theresa May will be able to make with the EU.

So how does this affect current and potential future students? Current students have already committed to their degrees, paying £9000 per year for their courses, with that price set to rise over the next few years if the TEF is implemented and a tiered system of universities and fees are introduced. 64% of registered voters aged 18-24 had their say in the EU referendum, and 75% of those voted to remain - so it’s unsurprising that many students are angry that they’ll be one of the demographics most negatively affected by Brexit, regardless of how the withdrawal is implemented. School, college and sixth-form students are also likely to be carefully weighing up their options. However, it’s important to remember that whilst the immediate effects of Brexit on the further education system and employment rates are predominantly negative, they won’t last forever. Degrees are still seen by many employers as a key requirement when they hire young people, and they are definitely still requirements in sectors such as law and medicine. But what if you’re interested in a less vocational degree such as History or English? Well, in the words of John Dewey: “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

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