THE BLOG

Vocational Degrees Come of Age

05/08/2013 09:51 BST | Updated 02/10/2013 10:12 BST

When you're choosing a university and a degree course, how do you decide between the myriad of courses available and ensure that you're giving yourself the best start when it comes to finding a job once you've graduated?

When I went to university, I had the luxury of choosing a course that I was interested in without worrying too much about where it would lead me. My higher education was fully-funded, whereas the students of today will, in the main, be responsible for repaying their own tuition fees. If I was looking to choose a degree course now, I would think carefully about my career and whether the course I was considering would put me ahead of other graduates.

There was a time when 'vocational' courses were considered second class, an option for those who didn't quite make the grade, but it seems to me that applied courses have come of age. Employers often express concern about the quality of graduates and the perceived disconnect between higher education and the world of work. In a competitive employment market, employers want staff with an understanding of the business they're joining, and skills that are relevant to the workplace; vocational courses provide just that.

Of course, many graduates who study 'traditional' subjects go on to successful careers in specialist industries, but if you've done a course that is tailored to the business you want to work in, you're more likely to be pushing on open doors and to progress quickly. As an employer, I'm inclined to favour graduates with marketing degrees over those that will need to be taught the basics of the industry.

At Bucks, we pride ourselves on our links with employers. All of our courses are designed with industry in mind, and many are accredited by professional bodies. For instance, our Air Transport and Pilot Training courses have been developed with the support of our flight training partners, and are designed for those who aspire to a career in the airline and airport industry, or in related fields such as air traffic control. Our Public Relations and Marketing Communications BA is accredited by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) and the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA).

Our partnership with audio manufacturer, Sennheiser, provides music management and production students with access to state-of-the-art equipment and internship and scholarship opportunities. Our furniture students benefit from links with employers and industry bodies through the National School of Furniture, a partnership between the University, Oxford & Cherwell College, and the furniture industry.

Vocational courses often involve 'live' briefs - the opportunity to work on a real problem affecting a real company. These projects enable students to develop links with organisations and often result in employment after graduation. Our art and design students show their work at the University and at shows in London and Paris; these shows are used by employers who are actively looking to recruit talented new graduates.

So, if you're still deciding what sort of course to choose, research the courses that are related to the area you're interested in, find out about their industry links and ask whether you'll have the opportunity to work on 'real-life' projects.

Of course, choosing a vocational degree is much harder if you're not sure about the career path you want to follow. If you don't know what you want to do, why not consider a more traditional degree at an institution with a vocational focus? A degree in law or business will open up many career options, and an institution with a vocational focus will provide you with a raft of opportunities to develop your employability skills. For example, our Enterprise Festival is open to every student and offers activities themed around careers, leadership, sales, marketing, finance and legal requirements, as well as enabling students to work on their own enterprises.

Choosing a vocational degree doesn't mean that you're sacrificing academic quality. Whilst you can learn a certain amount through case studies and theoretical investigation, real understanding - and employability - comes from making sure the academic basis of your study is supplemented by the opportunity to apply your knowledge to workplace situations.