Schoolchildren less convinced of importance of university

Social mobility charity says 11- to 16-year-olds in England and Wales may be increasingly aware of apprenticeship options

August 15, 2019
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Schoolchildren in England and Wales are becoming less likely to believe that going to university is important for getting on in life, according to a survey.

The poll of 2,809 11- to 16-year-olds, conducted for the social mobility charity the Sutton Trust, suggested that growing awareness of apprenticeships might explain in part the fall in the perceived importance of higher education.

The results were announced as hundreds of thousands of teenagers were due to get their A level results and confirm university places on 15 August.

According to the poll, 65 per cent of respondents said that they felt going to university was important for getting on in life, down from 75 per cent last year, and down from a high of 86 per cent in 2013. The proportion who felt that going to university was not important has risen from 11 per cent in 2013 to 20 per cent in 2019.

Three-quarters of respondents (75 per cent) said that they felt knowing the right people was important for getting on in life.

The Sutton Trust said that the shift might be explained by growing awareness of apprenticeships and other high-quality training routes. Almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of respondents said that they would be interested in an apprenticeship rather than going to university, if one was available for a job that they wanted to do.

Despite this, 77 per cent of respondents said that they were likely to go university when they were old enough – a similar proportion to recent years, but slightly down from the 2013 high of 81 per cent.

More than one in three respondents (36 per cent) said that their teachers had never discussed apprenticeships with them at school, although 47 per cent said that their teachers had done so.

There were significant differences in responses by social and ethnic backgrounds: going to university was deemed less important for young people from the least affluent families (61 per cent, versus 67 per cent among the richest schoolchildren), and white children (62 per cent, versus 75 per cent among ethnic minorities).

The proportion of respondents who said that they were concerned about the costs of higher education fell to 40 per cent, down from 46 per cent last year and 51 per cent the year before. However, money worries continue to be more pronounced among young people from the poorest backgrounds (50 per cent, versus 32 per cent from the richest families), and for girls over boys (44 per cent versus 36 per cent).

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said that young people “face a dilemma”. “If they go on to university, they incur debts of over £50,000 and will be paying back their loans well into middle age. And in many cases they will end up with degrees that don’t get them into graduate jobs,” Sir Peter said.

“Young people need better advice and guidance on where different degrees and apprenticeships could lead them, so they can make the right decision regarding their future.”

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Reader's comments (2)

“If they go on to university, they incur debts of over £50,000 and will be paying back their loans well into middle age. And in many cases they will end up with degrees that don’t get them into graduate jobs,”. This is more often the case than most Universities would care to admit, but as siblings and younger friends of siblings are hearing from students and graduates university life and it's costs are crippling ambitions, to be homeowners or just financially secure. The option to learn 'on the job' whilst being paid isn't a bad thing, and for essential 'trades' will start to build up the skilled people needed to keep the country and universities running (how many Universities have to pay more than the 'graded' job value wages just to recruit electricians and plumbers?), and whilst some use apprenticeships to train up such trades a number have been abusing the apprenticeships system too. And of course once qualified a number of trade people will up and leave as there's more money to be made outside of the University system. The politicians abuse of the University system to keep young people out of ranks of the unemployed, using social mobility as the carrot, only had a limited lifetime to start with.
The benefits of not going to University are finally being recognised. Debt can be demoralising and punitive and recent changes to the rules have made the debts to be repaid by students even greater because of higher interest rates. Appreticeships at level 4 and above, freqently result in better paid jobs than more than half University graduates enjoy. In the case of Degree Apprenticeships, where you learn while you earn, the student gets the best of both worlds, University and Work. Many blue chip companies paying top salaries are now recognising that by age 24, the Apprentices they have employed at 18 are doing better than graduates taken on at age 21 and are more likely to remain as employees. Employers are delighted at the higher return on investment from employing apprentices rather than graduates who leave after their 2 year induction programmes have ended. Increasingly, employers are dropping the need for a 1st or 2.1 before offering an interwiew and in many cases do not require a degree at all. They are finding less correlation between having a degree and high grades with success in the workplace. Some prefer to use psychometric and other test that highlight soft skills and other abilities rather than academic ability when looking for talent and employing new people. Even with vocational degrees in technology and accountancy and law, many employers are looking to recruit Apprentices with these qualifications who have studied a more modern curriculum, in many cases where the employers have been involved in the design of the courses. Employers are also seeking to recover the payments they have made to the new Apprenticeship Levy regime. By employing students undertaking Apprenticeshop Standards they get back the levy money they have paid which is not the case if they keep taking on new graduates. For many employers Graduates are OUT and Apprentices are IN. It's the money, stupid.