Students who go to university with vocational qualifications like BTECs are less likely to achieve a first or 2:1 when they graduate, new research suggests.
However, the study also paints a more “nuanced picture” that suggests that such students “can feel more independent, self-motivated and capable than their counterparts with A-level qualifications”.
The research comes just a days after the latest figures showed a sharp rise in the number of people applying to university with qualifications like BTECs.
For the study, the Bath authors - Robin Shields, senior lecturer in higher education management and Alex Masardo, a teaching fellow in education - combined analysis of data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency with accounts obtained from student focus groups and staff interviews at two UK universities. One was a teaching-focussed institution and the other a research-intensive university.
They concluded that the analysis of Hesa data showed that across the sector, students with vocational qualifications (predominantly BTECs) were are less likely to receive a first or 2:1, “even controlling for relevant demographic background characteristics”.
“Furthermore, differences in outcomes are largest at research-intensive universities, where there are fewer students with vocational qualifications,” the report adds.
But the authors say the views they canvassed show that the choices made by students regarding qualifications “are complex and not necessarily shaped by academic ability, but rather a combination of interests, dispositional qualities, and the influences of peers and families”.
“The views of both students and staff suggest that, above all, it is important to avoid a deficit model when thinking about vocational qualifications,” the report concludes.
“Both students’ self-perceptions and the views of staff show that students bring a wide range of different experiences and learning abilities to their higher education studies, and that all of these abilities can be useful in helping them to succeed.”
Among a number of recommendations, the researchers say university tutors should be made more aware of the different academic backgrounds of students. They also question whether the marketing of qualifications needs greater regulation.
“Marketing for the BTEC suggests that the most likely progression route is a research-intensive university, but previous research shows that this is not representative of patterns in access…and this study shows that they are less likely to perform well academically while there, while simultaneously highlighting their academic potential and abilities,” the report says.
Stephanie Marshall, chief executive of the HEA, said: “This research highlights that more needs to be done to support the learning of students with vocational qualifications while they are in higher education.
“The number of students choosing BTECs is rising steadily. Different pathways into HE prepare students in different ways. All are valid, but as a sector we must work to fully understand the differences. Support for those teaching students, through appropriate training, is one key way of supporting students.”
Dr Masardo said: “While this study provides evidence that students with vocational qualifications are less likely to receive a first or second-class degree than those coming through more traditional routes, it also reveals the importance of avoiding thinking about vocational qualifications as in some way inferior.
“Students bring a wide range of different experiences and learning abilities to their higher education studies, all of which can be useful in helping them to succeed.”