By Christine Wilson

13 September 2017 - 08:42

'They campaign, they volunteer, and yes, they vote.' Image (c) Allef Vinicius, used under licence and adapted from the original.
'They campaign, they volunteer, and yes, they vote.' Image ©

Allef Vinicius, used under licence and adapted from the original [link expired].

We asked 2,000 people in the UK, aged 18 to 30, about their career prospects, interest in political and social action, and the UK's place in the world. Christine Wilson explains the Next Generation UK research findings, published today.

What did you want to answer through the research?

We wanted honest views from young people in the UK about what they see as their main challenges. We settled on three areas – internationalism and the UK’s place in the world; political and social engagement; and opportunities in education and work.

Researchers from the think tank Demos, who did the report for us, also worked with focus groups to come up with a series of 'problem statements'. For example: how can institutions help young adults engage with the wider world, so they can achieve their dreams? Next, the researchers developed practical solutions to these problems for policy makers.

What did those surveyed say about how they felt about the UK?

When it comes to their attitudes to the rest of the world – both as individuals, and looking at the UK as a whole – we see a generation at ease with the rest of the world, and keen to engage with other cultures. Many retain a strong sense of Britishness, but they do not feel defined by national borders. Most (68 per cent) believe that international experience and a global outlook are essential to achieving their personal goals.

However, almost a quarter (23 per cent) have not been able to experience any form of international engagement, such as learning a foreign language, or living or studying abroad.

Young people also see better education as essential to reaching their goals. Sadly, 46 per cent did not feel their education had prepared them for work, with 50 per cent saying the system had not prepared them for life in general. Not only that, but many feel that when they reach the world of work, there is little to no stability or chance of progression.

This view is backed up by figures: the UK is generally considered to have a poor social mobility record by international standards. Data shows stalled pay, and freelancing is growing as a sector.

How willing are young UK people to take part in politics and society?

Our research showed plenty of scepticism about the political system. Politicians are 'out of touch with what the average UK citizen thinks', said one respondent. But has the vicious cycle of young people not voting due to feeling excluded, and political parties sidelining youth as non-voters, been broken?

The results of the 2017 UK general election, which had the highest youth turnout since 1992, certainly hint at a change. Of people aged 25 to 29, 64 per cent voted. Turnout was also up for those aged 18 to 19 (57 per cent voted) and 20 to 24 (59 per cent voted). Overall turnout for all ages was also the highest in 25 years, at 68.7 per cent.

We found that 71 per cent of respondents thought it either very or fairly important to engage with Westminster politics. They want to feel engaged. They want their concerns – on housing, education and lack of jobs – to be heard and acted upon. This generation is socially conscious and active. They campaign, they volunteer, and yes, they vote.

Much of their activism takes place online through social media, despite the fact that such channels may be unwieldy and unreliable sources of information. But our research also suggests that young people are aware of this, and would like to be helped to navigate this better, and turn ‘clicktivism’ – social action taken through the medium of online petitions – into real change.

Are there any further recommendations from this report?

The Youth Advisory Board, made up of 15 young adults who steered the project from start to finish, recommends that the government should protect young people's opportunities to travel, work and study abroad, and that there should be a culture of lifelong international engagement. This could mean partnerships between British and overseas schools, and between employers in the UK and abroad. They also noted that these opportunities must be available to all, and stressed the importance of attracting people from a range of backgrounds.

The board also wants the education system to focus not just on exams, but on building young people's social, emotional, and financial resilience. They suggested that schools should place more emphasis on wider life skills.

Another recommendation from the board is that practical political and citizenship education are taught in schools, including concrete social action.

This report is a reminder that the UK's next generation has creativity, energy, originality, determination, passion and a hunger for change.

Read the full research. If you are a UK-based student or recent graduate, you may be eligible to study or work abroad through one of our programmes.

Learn about Future Leaders Connect, the British Council's new network for young policy leaders. Applications will reopen in 2018.

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