18 Aug 2011

Can’t afford a Gap Year? Think again

Missed out on a university place? Take a Gap Year, says spoof backpacker Orlando, “And remember, a gap yah will only cost you an extra 20K. Literally a bargain”. Channel 4 News begs to differ.

Affordable Gap Years for A-level students (Image: Getty)

With university fees set to rise to as much as £9,000 next year, the prospect of spending thousands more on an impromptu gap year is eye-watering for students and parents alike.

But it is a prospect tens of thousands of A-level students are facing, as 220,000 compete for 40,000 places through the clearing system.

The number of students that applied to defer their university entry for a year plunged to 30,000 this year from 47,000 last year in the face of rising tuition fees.

Comedian Matt Lacey, famed for the spoof Gap Year character Orlando, said the changes might not affect “the idiots who spend a year vomiting all over the developing world at the expense of their parents”. But what options are there for the less well off?

Cameron’s Peace Corp

David Cameron has long championed a British ‘Peace Corp’, offering young volunteers Government grants to work abroad helping some of the world’s poorest people.

Back in 2005, the Prime Minister called for a national volunteer programme for teenagers that would be “relevant and inspiring – not a dull worthy obligation”.

This summer, the first youngsters joined up for Mr Cameron’s International Citizen Service (ICS) – a £10m pilot project to send 18-22 year olds abroad on three month community work placements.

Last century, America’s Peace Corps inspired a generation of young people to act, and this century I want International Citizen Service to do the same thing. David Cameron, Prime Minister

ICS volunteers from low income backgrounds will be sent abroad for free, those from middle-income backgrounds are asked to pay £1,000 and volunteers from higher income brackets are expected to pay £2,000.

Volunteers work with established charity groups, led by VSO, in 28 countries – including 17 African countries, five Asian and four in Latin and Central America.

The programme is still in its infancy, but Mr Cameron launched it with high hopes earlier this year.

“Today I can announce International Citizen Service, to give thousands of our young people, who couldn’t otherwise afford it, the chance to see the world and serve others. Last century, America’s Peace Corps inspired a generation of young people to act, and this century I want International Citizen Service to do the same thing,”he said.

Matthew Reynold, Youth Operation Manager at VSO, told Channel 4 News there are still more than 100 spare places on VSO’s trips in January and April alone.

This year, the pilot is taking on 1,080 youngsters and almost 250 older volunteers. The Government is due to announce its decision on future funding for the programme next month.

John F Kennedy's American Peace Corps: 'Life is calling. How far will you go?'
At 2am during an off-the-cuff campaign speech at the University of Michigan, then-Senator John F Kennedy challenged students to contribute two years of their life to helping people in the developing world.
Within weeks of becoming President in 1961, JFK set up the Peace Corps and the first 51 volunteers were dispatched to Ghana that year.
Today, more than 8,500 volunteers are working as volunteers or trainees in 139 countries. In 2005, for the first time volunteers were deployed at home to help relief workers with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Rita.
The Peace Corps celebrated its 50th birthday earlier this year and has secured record funding of $440m from President Barack Obama for 2012.
A-level results: students forced to take a gap year as university places dry up (Image: Peace Corps)

The Gap Year Combo

Andrew Bird, managing director of Gap Year Directory, told Channel 4 News that the financial crisis has injected some realism into the Gap Year market. “People are planning short term trips – deciding not to take a complete year,” Mr Bird said.

While volunteer work abroad is still popular, people are planning five week stints rather than the traditional 10 weeks or more, he said.

Students are also opting to gather practical skills and office experience in a bid to boost their CV – and their chances of getting into university next year.

“In the last few years there has been a shift in Gap Year programmes – they are now centred on CV development, with internships and work placements,” Mr Bird said.

People are planning short term trips – deciding not to take a complete year. Andrew Bird, MD, Gap Year Directory

Raleigh International, which provides expedition and volunteer programmes abroad for Gap Year students, has seen a similar trend. This summer it took on a record number for its shorter five-week trips, with applications up by 25 per cent.

“We are seeing an increasingly savvy group of young people applying to Raleigh,” the company’s chief executive Stacey Adams commented. “They are aware that they need to make good use of the time they have available during their education and see Raleigh as a constructive way of equipping them with the skills and experience they need.”

But with 18 per cent of the UK’s young workforce unemployed, competition for jobs and even low-paid work experience is rife.

More than 300,000 school and university leavers signed on for Jobseekers Allowance last year. Latest figures show that 671,000 16-24 years olds were looking for a job between April and June this year.

However, in a bid to help young people gain worthwhile work experience – rather than just pay the bills – the Government changed the rules of Jobseekers Allowance in January.

After 13 weeks on Jobseekers Allowance, 18-24 year olds can now volunteer for work experience for two to eight week placements and continue to receive the dole.