By Yasmine Lingmann
Business closures. Curfews. Social gatherings controlled. Face masks. Zoom fatigue. These are just a few of the consequences we are all having to accept in this never-ending Corona driven mess. But students are arguably one of the worst affected groups for two main reasons: they are the least likely to experience anything but mild symptoms, and these measures are therefore sacrificial; and the crucial opportunities and experiences needed for students to thrive and pave their way in the competitive world we live in are being snatched beneath our eyes- deteriorating the nations’ future workforce and economy.
I started working for the British Chamber of Commerce in July, right in the midst of it all, in a team of 6 student interns on our Erasmus year abroad as part of our university degree. Our interviews were held online during lockdown, with hopes that things would soon resume back to normal so that we could move to Brussels for the year. It’s now our third month of working remotely, having only met our colleagues virtually. This being said, we are lucky. As a team we have managed to get on despite only meeting online, and our colleagues have been nothing but accommodating and understanding. Many of our friends at university have had their year abroad cancelled altogether, or are unable to work remotely; having to settle for online learning courses that do not in any way make up for the loss of their Erasmus plans. Not only this- many of us are unable to receive the grant we have been promised, leaving students with little money to make the most of the year. Everything we had hoped for- exploring a new city, developing our foreign language skills, networking with professionals and learning from watching colleagues at work- has been taken away from us.
British students are paying the same price this year for worse educational development, economic prospects and social progression. With freshers struggling to settle in their new environments and unable to socialise: mental and physical health are at risk. This is the cohort that has already undergone significant hardship: they missed their last few months of school or college, were unable to sit their exams, and, many of whom were allocated A-level grades that in some cases bore no resemblance to what they had been predicted. University students have already been home from university since March and lost lecture hours due to teacher strikes throughout the year. Although the physical health of students is at low risk from Covid-19, their emotional, educational and economic wellbeing have been jeopardised more than any other age group’s.
The impacts this will have on the wider society are huge. In terms of domestic students, Resolution Foundation has revealed that more than a third of 18-24 year olds have been furloughed or lost their main job since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Employers are seeking 32% fewer entrants on apprentice or school leaver programmes than originally planned for this year, while graduate jobs have been cut by 12%. Internships and placements will also slump by 40%. There are already half a million young people unemployed and more than a million displaced from sectors most affected by Covid-19. The Institute for Employment Studies think that that in the medium term youth unemployment could exceed 2 million. A wide range of research suggests that spending more than six months unemployed at this age can have a significant long-term impact on their careers. Organisations such as Youth Employment UK are fighting to address the consequences Covid-19 will have on the wages and job prospects of ‘Corona Class of 2020’.
International students have been deeply impacted, too. This is significantly problematic given that in 2018/19 teaching of overseas students generated an estimated surplus of £1.7 billion or 43% in England and Northern Ireland combined, home student numbers have remained relatively static. China is by far the largest source of international students with just over 120,000 in 2018/19. Travel restrictions, as well as virtual lessons causing many students to defer or drop out, have caused a large fall in demand for British higher education from overseas. The short term and long term income generated by higher education to the national economy will continue to fall if changes are not made.
This being said- businesses are responding. According to a study done be LSE in July 2020, over 60% of firms adopted new digital technologies and management practices; and around a third invested in new digital capabilities. These process and product innovations are generally considered to have had a positive impact on performance, and businesses expect to maintain them post-crisis. This ‘Virtual Revolution’ offers many opportunities to technology prone students and according to most firms, will increase employee productivity rather than reduce the need for employees over time. Therefore, students can and should continue to be offered opportunities, and businesses will actually save more by doing so.
The Coronavirus Cohort will gain the strength and drive that businesses seek in their employees. This disruption will create new opportunities: a generation of students that have no choice but to adapt and innovate. Firms will need to give a helping hand to students through internships and work experience in order to get the economy back on track- but this effort is guaranteed to pay for itself for many years to come.
Here at the British Chamber of Commerce, we will continue to update you with the necessary information to help all our members to succeed.
We are all in this together, and with the right plans in place, consumer confidence can be restored. BritCham offers support, guidance and specialised coverage for both Brexit and COVID-19, including webinars, workshops and events that will give your firm the tools it needs to navigate through this challenging period. Click here to register: https://www.britishchamber.be/upcoming-events