Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Taxpayers To Fund Gap Year

The Government, in its almost limitless wisdom, has decided that because many graduate students are finding it hard to get a job in the current economic climate, that they (and that is 'they' as in in 'we') will fund students to take an extra gap year abroad before they try to join the rest of us in earning an actual wage, paying taxes and keeping the country running.

The students will undertake projects such as building schools with the company Raleigh International.

I object to this on two main points. The first is that only 500 students are being taken on these projects at a total funding of £500,000 which makes the project a headline grabber for the Government, it makes it appear on a superficial reading of the topic as if the Government is doing something serious about graduate unemployment. Half a million pounds though is a relatively small sum of money, and targeting 500 people is not going to do much about graduate unemployment at all.

The students will have to pay for there own flights, vaccines and raise £1,000 , the Government will then provide a £1,000 grant. Now I don't know very much about Raleigh International's work, but a number of my staff have been on foreign expeditions with World Challenge. They do a lot of fundraising to go on these sort of trips and you could be fooled into thinking that your donated money will be put to excellent use in building schools, providing children with teaching experience, undertaking valuable projects in the countries they visit. The truth though is that out of a two or three week mission the time spent on projects is minimal, the rest of the trip is just an adventure holiday.

Now, I think it is an excellent idea for young people to have a good time in foreign countries, to experience other cultures and perhaps change their own views of the world, but some of these trips are promoted to potential sponsors as if they they are wholly charitable expeditions and largely this is not the case. I know of some parents who have refused to send their children on World Challenge expeditions because they feel that the amount of money required (which may well be £2-3000 for one person) is not on the whole put to good use in the country visited.

If you do want to work abroad, there are many charities who will find you accommodation in return for doing charitable work. One of my friends travels to Romania to work in an orphanage for disabled children, on this project the foreign volunteers work full working weeks for the duration of their visit, not the 'four days in six weeks' that I have heard quoted as the entire amount of effort put in on a World Challenge visit.

Last year at Tesco one of our local rugby teams were bag packing to collect money to send them to play in Dubai. Again, I'm all for youth sport, I will happily donate money for the general funding of youth sport, for kit, for new clubhouses/grounds etc. But why on earth should I donate money for children to go on an expensive holiday to the Middle East ? On the same day, the RAF collectors were standing outside with their tins collecting for servicemen injured in the line of duty, they got a fiver.

As an employer, would I consider that taking part in one of these expeditions makes a person better rounded and a better employee when sorting through job applications ? Well personally I would, but I do have a rather liberal/hippy/socialist attitude towards these sort of things, I'm not sure that all employers think along the same lines. Also, having done a little research into these companies, I would prefer a graduate who had undertaken their own gap year project (some of my staff have taught English in Thailand for example) rather than taking the easy route of signing up with what is in effect a holiday company.

Why not then use the money being set aside for these foreign holiday/projects for charitable or community work here in the UK. There are loads of things students could be doing here, without the costs of flights and foreign accommodation. There are hundreds of charitable projects all over the country which would benefit from a bit of graduate manpower. Just phone the RSPB or the Woodland Trust or the National Trust and ask them what they need doing, find a charity that you are interested in the work of and volunteer for them, it isn't hard to organise, and won't cost loads of money. Graduates could live at home and still be out working for the community, learning valuable skills and teamwork, just with less taxpayer's money spent.

1 comment:

  1. I heard this on R4 on Monday evening while I was walking in the woods with my dog. There were two responses. Firstly it made me laugh out loud, which would have been mildly embarrassing had there be other people around. Secondly, a feeling of profound resentment. What are the self serving hypocrites trying to hide this time. These schemes are a relatively low cost smoke screen. But then why would they be concerned by the cost, there probably not a single one of them who’s not defrauded us the tax payers by at least £1000 in the last month.

    I too think gap years are a very worthwhile exercise. I spent several very rewarding ‘Holidays’ with the BTCV when I was an impoverished student. The conservation work was interesting, fun, challenging and necessary. I say necessary because some of these gap year activities are possibly not a necessary as they might appear. It also reinforced my love of the outdoors and our countryside, when I lived in urban Leeds this was very important to me. As for self organized gap years, what can prove the organisational abilities of a young person more than planning an intercontinental trip on a restricted budget. I have a friend in the village, well actually he’s not at present – he’s in Australia. Having hiked across South America and spent 2 month’s teaching on the Galapagos islands, before continuing to Australia. He raised every penny himself, he’s worked wherever possible as he’s travelled and now he’s enjoying a month relaxing before planning his return trip. So when he’s completed his degree and his CV lands on some director’s desk what are they likely to think about his organisational, fiscal and social skills?