UK parents ‘want children on vocational courses, not degrees’

Polling accompanied by call for Westminster government to set out more details of lifetime learning plans

April 22, 2021
Source: istock

More people would prefer their child to train for a vocational qualification after leaving school than to attend university, according to a poll conducted for an influential UK thinktank.

Polling for the Social Market Foundation (SMF) found that voters were more positive about the value of technical and vocational education than about academic learning, with 48 per cent saying they would prefer their offspring to complete a work-related qualification rather than gain a degree, for which 37 per cent of the 2,005 respondents opted. Another 8 per cent said they would like their children to go directly into work.

Aveek Bhattacharya, chief economist at the SMF, which conducted the research with the Further Education Trust for Leadership, said the polling, conducted before the pandemic, suggested that those politicians who talk about the need to expand higher education over improving vocational routes were “out of touch with the public, who see great value in further and technical education”.

The polling, by Opinium, indicated that the middle classes were much more positive about vocational options than was often assumed, the thinktank added. Some 43 per cent of people in the ABC1 socio-economic groups said they would prefer their child to get a vocational qualification, while 45 per cent said they would rather their children went to university.

Meanwhile, 55 per cent of people with a degree said they would opt for university if they had the chance to choose again, compared with 33 per cent of graduates who said they wished they had taken a vocational course instead. Sixty-one per cent of people with vocational qualifications would take the same route again, while 27 per cent wish they had gone to university instead.

The SMF called on the government to reverse funding cuts to further education, create a more flexible funding system and encourage more collaboration between further and higher education.

“None of that will come easily to a political class that has given vocational education too little consideration so far, but it is in line with what the public expects,” the SMF paper says.

In a separate paper published on 22 April, the Institute for Fiscal Studies says more details are needed about the Westminster government’s plans to create a Lifetime Skills Guarantee, giving individuals flexible loan funding for four years of post-18 education.

In particular, it says the government should set out its plans for relaxing equivalent or lower qualification (ELQ) rules, which currently prevent adults from receiving public funding for qualifications at the same or lower levels to those they already possess. Such a move would be important to allow adults to retrain, but could be expensive, the IFS says – and so far the government has pledged only to consult on the issue.

More details are also needed on plans to allow people to access public funding to study for individual modules of higher education courses, the report adds.

Ben Waltmann, a senior research economist at the IFS and a co-author of the report, said the government’s recent lifelong learning White Paper “contains many good ideas…but is short on specifics and actual commitments”.

“The government should have set out a clear sense of direction, but instead has kicked the can down the road, with most substantive decisions delayed awaiting further consultations,” he said.

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