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Many young people enter labour markets each year armed with little education to equip them for work. Even for those leaving university, a lack of demand means many have little hope of using their hard-earned knowledge in a proper job.
The International Labour Organization has warned of "a scarred generation of young workers facing a dangerous mix of high unemployment, increased inactivity and precarious work''. In Egypt, where the majority of the 80m population lives in poverty, 1m young people join the labour force every year. Most will be underemployed in the vast informal sector or in the country's enormous and lumbering bureaucracy.
But the lucky ones with a tertiary education and inspired by the possibility of a new dawn, are aiming higher. "Egyptian youths are trying to find jobs that give them social mobility," says Ayman Ismail, professor of entrepreneurship at the American University in Cairo. Even before the revolution, when investment levels were high, graduates were taking four or five years to find their first job, he says.
Prof Ismail is on the board of Nahdet El Mahrousa, a development group that operates the Career & Entrepreneurship Development Office at Cairo University. The organisation, like many others, has introduced a volunteering programme, experience having shown that work in the community provides graduates with the skills they need in a real job. "Volunteers have a certain work ethic," says Prof Ismail. "They're self-motivators. They are good people to have in your company."
In Chile, meanwhile, where students, have been protesting for months over the poor state of public universities, a system is being put in place at Santiago's School of Business and Economics which it is hoped will be copied elsewhere.
Jorge Marshall Rivera, the dean, says that, with 50 per cent of young people having secured degrees, they have had to find a way of differentiating themselves and have driven a system whereby, in their final year, instead of producing a thesis, they come up with a business idea, which they must implement and demonstrate. "This has been driven by student demand, not by the universities," he says. "Students have been way out ahead of us."
In the US, outside the Ivy League institutions with their strong social networks, graduation rates are lamentable, says Lorlene Hoyt, director of programmes and research at the Talloires Network, an international association committed to strengthening the responsibilities of higher education, at Tufts University, Boston. "Half our colleges are community colleges and only one in three students stays to the end of the course," she says.
She adds that the Occupy Wall Street protest is starting to focus government attention on social disparities, but believes the UK is quicker and more flexible in adjusting to a new world order.
Driven by increased tuition fees, many British institutions - not so long ago more interested in attracting the requisite number of students than in what happens to them when they leave - have felt compelled to emphasise employment opportunities.
London Metropolitan University is no stranger to the need to ensure its graduates gain employment, given its beginnings in 1848 as a workingmen's college. Having streamlined its offering last year, it is introducing a course in social media, capitalising on its position at the heart of London's so-called "tech corridor", from film companies in Soho to the explosion of digital, design and other new media businesses around Hoxton, and concentrating on Britain's reputation for creative brands.
"Media and communications have seen huge growth - more than 150 per cent in the past 20 years," says Chris Lane at the university's department of applied social sciences. "We're world leaders in brands and all the innovation is here," he says.
Ben Harris, director at New Brand Vision, a website agency and software developer, says his highly qualified team has been largely recruited from London Met. His approaches to competing universities have fallen on deaf ears. "No one was interested," he says. "But we found the right person at London Met and they started to feed us their best candidates."
Eighty-three per cent of the university's graduates find employment within six months of leaving and their starting salaries are GBP5,000 above the average.
At the other end of the scale, London's elite Imperial College has a long history of supplying industry with science graduates. Nigel Bell, professor of environmental pollution and director of careers and alumni, says the college's careers and alumni system has huge benefits. "I know all the students I have taught here since the 1970s," he says. That is invaluable when it comes to securing employment for subsequent generations. "It's not the sort of alumni system where the university only gets in touch with you when it needs money."
Some young people may have had as many as 18 jobs by the time they are 32. So what of the old-fashioned polymaths? And what of the argument in favour of education for education's sake? "There's no such thing," says David Eade, the newly appointed head of student employment and enterprise at Nottingham Trent University. "Everything has a value. It doesn't all need to be about money."