THE BLOG

Don't Make Me Choose Between University and Vocational

03/10/2014 11:23 BST | Updated 01/12/2014 10:59 GMT

Figures from UCAS show the number of students going to university with vocational qualifications is up. Good news. But as a result, universities are being accused of 'dumbing down' their entry requirements.

Why is that? We should be celebrating the fact that young people have more choices than ever before. If someone chooses to go to college at 16, they should be able to go to university. Similarly, if someone does GCSEs and A-Levels, they should be encouraged to explore apprenticeships.

Young people already have enough pressure to decide their futures; they don't need the added stress of thinking they only have one chance to get it right, or one route to success. What if you're pushed onto an academic track and then realise that you prefer hands-on work experience? If you don't have the option to change paths, you could waste huge amounts of time and money.

I'm not surprised that most people think they have one of two choices: A-Levels to university, or vocational course to a job. In the past, it was really difficult to switch once you started down one of those paths. You had to pick one and stick with it, even if it didn't suit you.

The world of education has moved on a lot since then. We now have options like the City & Guilds TechBac®, a curriculum that has been developed with industry, meaning that young people can gain the valuable workplace skills that employers often say are missing among young people. The TechBac® is also recognised by UCAS, so people can enter the world of work or university. It's fantastic that students aren't bound by limited options anymore.

But all of this means nothing if young people don't know they have options. Or worse still, they know about them but think certain paths are 'dumbed down'.

We can't afford that mind-set. We need young people to gain the right skills that businesses need. After all, UKCES research shows that by 2020, we need 2 million more people to fill 'associate professional / technical' vacancies. That's a massive number, and there's no way we'll get there unless young people know they have flexibility.