THE BLOG

Are Higher Education Attitudes a Barrier to Tomorrow's Talent?

05/08/2014 12:29 BST | Updated 03/10/2014 10:59 BST

It's an unsettling thought that, through no fault of their own, some of Britain's best and brightest might never fulfil their career potential because of outdated attitudes towards education.

A real strength of our higher education system is the amount of choice that students have. Whether it's the course, the institution, the financing or the method of study, there are a multitude of learning options available.

The problem is, these options are still not always presented to prospective learners and that could actually be costing our economy by restricting our talent pool.

The traditional route - full time study at university, in most cases with a student loan - suits many. But it doesn't suit all, not because they aren't sufficiently capable or talented enough, but because they just don't connect with that particular learning model or don't want to be burdened by the associated cost.

As CEO of RDI, I'm in the privileged position to hear - time and time again - about success stories that might never have been, such as budding solicitor Jamie, or entrepreneurial planning engineer Adam. If these two bright young men hadn't discovered an alternative route to study, our national workforce would have been poorer for it.

But for every Jamie or Adam, I fear there are those who just don't realise higher education options exist and subsequently, fall through the cracks - of education and employment.

Around half of all school leavers in Britain are now expected to make the decision that university is not for them. And I'm not simply talking about full time university study. Since 2012, over 100,000 fewer students are enrolling on part-time undergraduate university courses too.

In a recent speech Ed Miliband warned that the UK risks "going into decline" unless it creates greater opportunities for the "forgotten 50%" of young people who choose not to follow the traditional academic route.

The thing is, there are opportunities - we just need to throw a greater spotlight on them. Online distance learning or apprenticeships are wonderful options for nurturing tomorrow's talent in different ways. What's more, these routes also offer the benefit of facilitating workplace experience - enabling students to earn while they learn a subject or a profession.

Surely this is better than young people doing nothing or becoming a 'drop out statistic' because they felt pressured into a learning model that just wasn't for them. The HESA (the Higher Education Statistics Agency) suggests that as many as one in every 15 undergraduates drop out of university during their first year of study. I wonder how many of these only enrolled in the first place because they felt 'they should'.

Instead of fulfilling their potential, these students are left with an ill-deserved 'drop-out' label, debt, and in many cases, long-term disillusionment with higher education.

The 'Britain Thinks' report highlighted that 14-16 year olds feel they have very few conversations about post-16 options with teachers. Perhaps more worryingly though, 49% feel they will have to move abroad for a chance to live the life they want to lead.

Of course, education is only part of the equation with this second statistic. But isn't it a shocking thought that we could potentially be losing our young talent to other countries simply because we're not having the right conversations with them about their career and education options?

Presenting different options to achieve higher education to school and college leavers will guarantee that significantly less people are discouraged from higher education, that more people achieve their potential, and that the UK workforce is fed with a diverse and exciting range of talent from all walks of life. To this end RDI has developed partnerships with several UK FE colleges to offer more information and flexible higher education study options through its new OnlinePlus portfolio of programmes. You can learn more about this initiative here.