There were some big names around the table. Dr Jane Grenville, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Students and Alumni at the University of York. Prof. Peter Spencer, Professor of Economics and Finance and an Economic Adviser to Ernst and Young, Mark Lyttleton from Blackrock Global Investment Management. Colin Stanbridge, CEO of the London Chamber of Commerce, and Anne Harrap from the Joseph Rowntree Trust. It was April 30, and a selection of York’s finest alumni had gathered in London to discuss the effect of the credit crunch on their former university.
Opening the discussions, Harrap focused on the social consequences of a recession, stating that “entrepreneurs and the third sector will be threatened”, and suggesting a possible risk of less innovative ideas. Lyttleton agreed that “we are in an uncomfortable place”, and warned graduates to expect poorer public services and more unemployment in the public sector due to the government’s decrease in spending. Believing that unemployment issues will continue for at least two years, he commented: “People are so concerned about the recession that they aren’t thinking about what’s going to happen four or five years down the line”.
In response, Stanbridge suggested that students need to look more carefully about what degrees and careers they choose. He stated that whilst the “big employers of students are not hiring at all, we should recognise that there are other sectors which are.” He went on to say that cutting public spending should not necessarily be seen as a bad thing, describing it as “a rebalancing that will last for a very long time to come”. However, he did disclose that “there will be a large price to pay down the line, and maybe undergraduates will be paying that price”.
Prof. Spencer put the current economic difficulties down to globalisation, confessing himself to be “not really very optimistic at all”. He stressed that “we need to see more real engineers than financial ones”, and that Britain must focus as much on saving as it does on spending, but praised the fact that “students these days are more flexible”, suggesting that “providing they do this, they can carry the economy along with them.”
Concerns were also raised from the floor that the University ought to stop expanding in an attempt to reduce expenditure as quickly as possible. In response, Jane Grenville stated that whilst the University is increasingly sensitive to the effects of the recession, it had “committed to phase one so we’re going to do it”. She reminded those gathered of how York had “got itself into such a bad state in the 80s due to persistent price cuts,” emphasising that while financial measures were obviously being taken very seriously by the University, the assistance of alumni in creating work experience and contacts for current students would be “really really helpful”.
Whilst how students’ will feel the repercussions of the recession in the future was left undecided, the Alumni agreed to do as much as possible to promote the University, and to assist graduates looking for work. Despite obviously challenging times ahead, Grenville concluded by assuring alumni that her “faith in York students is boundless”.