The government's lifelong learning ambitions may be thwarted as college students on vocational courses shun university because of perceived financial obstacles and a lack of confidence.
Research carried out in Northeast England revealed this week that 42 per cent of advanced General national vocational qualifications students thought they would end up at university, while just over half the students on access to higher education courses said they expected to progress to a degree. This compared with three quarters of A-level students from colleges.
When asked to rank the obstacles to degree study, finance was high on the list for all groups, but vocational students also suffered from lack of confidence and poor advice. They were also unsure about which course to apply for. Access students were anxious about travelling distances to university.
More than 160 college students were questioned about their perceptions of university life and their likely destinations as part of a study conducted by a consortium of six colleges and three universities around Tyne and Wear.
Dorothy Smith, who led the project, said: "The Northeast has a tradition of very low participation in higher education, and the government's desire for lifelong learning will not become a reality unless more is done to motivate students and enhance opportunities for progression to local universities.
"It is clear that despite efforts to the contrary, the GNVQ is not established as an alternative entry route for higher education."
One of the difficulties was that colleges and universities had different curriculum requirements.
Ms Smith said: "The two sectors need to collaborate much more closely. It would appear that we need far greater understanding than just points on a Universities and Colleges Admissions Services form if we are truly to widen participation and ensure students are guided on to programmes at which they have a reasonable chance of success."
The research found that students in colleges that had created close links with nearby universities were more likely to progress to degree programmes.
"College tutors have a key role to play in supporting students, offering them up-to-date advice and guidance on the options available to them," Ms Smith added.
- Magdalen College, Oxford, the college at the centre of the Laura Spence storm earlier this year, had only four applicants from Tyneside and Teesside this year, the same number as last year.
Andrew Hobson, Magdalen's admissions tutor, said that historically the Northeast produced half of the number of applicants to the college compared with the average for English regions. However, analysis of the latest Oxford entry figures show that the university is becoming less elitist, educating a greater proportion of state school pupils than ever before.