School leavers head for Uni in record numbers

UCAS reports highest ever numbers of school leavers have made applications for September -by the end of June, over 235.000 18 years,40% of 18 years had applied -though the number from Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland  has fallen.

Universities will be delighted, particularly those dependent on expansion for survival. They’ll  continue to argue that more graduates will increase economic productivity, social mobility and enable the UK “To retain a competitive advantage on the global stage post-Brexit”.

In sharp contrast, some policy makers continue to be concerned about a shortage of ‘graduate jobs’. Suggesting that many young people are being ‘overeducated’.

Others want to rebuild the ‘vocational’ route as an alternative. Education minister Damian Hinds has  announced that Higher Technical Qualifications (HTQs) will be added to the  T-levels available to 16-year olds from next year. As well as seeking to reduce HE numbers he argues there’s a need for more ‘technician level’ skills citing the economic success of countries like Germany that have elaborate and higher status vocational training pathways.  Like Lord Baker before him, Hinds ( PPE at Oxford) blames ‘middle-class snobbery’ for the failure to do the same in the UK.

It’s argued that those achieving higher vocational qualifications have higher average earnings than degree holders from Non-Russell Group universities, but this is only the case in certain technical or ‘STEM’ subjects, often gained  through day-release basis.  Most of those following full-time vocational pathways do so in areas like  business or health and social care.  Higher Level Apprenticeships have continued to grow,  with nearly 50 000 new ones last year,  but  they still  make up less than 1 in 5 of all starts. Only a minority (1 in 3) of apprenticeships are started by school and college leavers.

We don’t have an economy that is producing  thousands of  ‘middle’ or technician level jobs.  Instead the labour market continues to polarise with  insecurity and unpredictability of employment intensifying.  Just as  young people increasingly remained in full -time education from the late 1970s as post -war ‘youth jobs’ collapsed,  large numbers, despite high fees and living costs,  now flock to university for primarily economic reasons, not as a result of being misinformed ­(!) In comparison young Germans who begin vocational programmes are guaranteed jobs on completion, not just more qualifications.


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