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The Government should pay graduates to undertake internships at businesses struggling because of the coronavirus pandemic, leading universities say.

Facing a recovering job market that has fewer opportunities and increased competition, young people will need government support, or youth unemployment could rise significantly, they argue.

Universities UK, the representative organisation for the UK’s universities says that a one-year UK-wide scheme of recovery internships, working with businesses most in need, could help support up to 100,000 graduates to work with local companies.

They say that joint working with universities and businesses with support from the UK government could create “fair and meaningful opportunities for young people and ensure this crisis does not lead to a rise in unpaid internships – and reverse the hard-won progress the sector has begun to make on social mobility.”

In 2018/19, there were 801,135 higher education qualifications gained across undergraduate and postgraduate level at UK universities.

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Professor Julia Buckingham, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London, said: “Every student graduating this year is part of a remarkable class that has overcome the unexpected and extraordinary challenges of the pandemic.

“The skills these graduates have acquired are lifelong and highly valuable to employers. Students, who have worked hard for years to get a degree or qualification they are proud of, should not have to pay the price for a situation that is outside their control. In these unique and unforeseen circumstances, targeted support is needed to enable this year’s graduating class to realise their potential and prosper fully.

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“Universities have been offering widespread support to help this year’s graduates find jobs and, while some employers are still running recruitment programmes online, the fact remains that there are thousands fewer jobs this year. 

“Government support to incentivise and grow paid internships would benefit both graduates and employers, creating impactful opportunities for these young people and supporting the economic recovery.”

Matthew Percival, People and Skills Director at the CBI, said: “Financial incentives to create jobs and training opportunities earlier in recovery will be vital to reducing youth unemployment.”