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Friday, 17 August, 2001, 10:26 GMT 11:26 UK
It's not Patagonia, but it pays the bills
More young people than ever are delaying their entry into higher education. But instead of planning a year of adventure, many will be happy just to boost their bank account.

So-called "gap years" are enjoying a surge in popularity, with an estimated one in three university-bound school leavers delaying their entry.

The number of those taking the 2001/2 academic year off is up 9% on last year's figure, according to a recent survey.

Prince William
Prince William: A one-man advert for "gappers"
Some have put this increase down to the "Wills effect". When Prince William began his gap year with a 10-week trip to Chile on a Raleigh International expedition, the merits of taking 12 months out received a generous airing in the media.

Though official photographs of the newly-graduated Etonian cleaning a Patagonian toilet hardly made voluntary work look glamorous, the royal seal of approval must surely have influenced some of those having second thoughts about rushing straight from school to university.

"Character-building" gap years are also being encouraged by universities themselves. A survey of vice-chancellors found 90% considered a "structured" year out benefited the personal development of undergraduates.

Keeping it real

"They prefer to see that gap years are used most productively - as a learning experience that bears some relevance to study," says a spokeswoman.

Bar work
The work doesn't stop when the studying starts
Graduate employers are also keen on young people who have gone out into the "real world" before embarking on their university career.

A "constructive" year can provide young people with "soft skills" - such as initiative, decision-making and problem-solving - which other university graduates lack, according to a survey.

Every one of the 89 top companies questioned by the Association of Graduate Recruiters said voluntary work gave "gappers" valuable confidence and leadership skills.

However, as personally rewarding as trekking off to Peru to teach English to local children may be, an increasing number of gap year students are looking for rewards of a more financial kind.

Rizla pack
Student life comes at a cost...
Nearly half of this year's gappers say their time will be spent earning and saving money - up from a third of Prince William's contemporaries.

With the National Union of Students estimating that 42% of students work during term-time - even missing lectures - to meet tuition and living expenses, many gappers endeavour to build up a financial cushion.

With students now typically graduating 10,000 in debt, more than four in 10 sixth formers questioned in a recent survey admitted to having second thoughts about university because of concerns about the cost.

Trying to combine paid work with the kind of adventure that impresses university admissions tutors and future employers can have its risks.

Dr Martens
...with lots of "essential" purchases
Those seeking work abroad can often find themselves preyed upon by unscrupulous bosses, according to a BBC survey.

Of the 509 young people quizzed by the BBC Essentials website last year, a third said they had received below the UK minimum wage of 3.20 an hour.

One in 10 of those surveyed did not receive a penny of the pay they were due.

Even more worryingly, both young men and women reported being sexually harassed while in their foreign workplace.

See also:

16 Aug 01 | Education
A-level grades up again
13 Aug 01 | Education
Debt fears unsettle would-be students
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