Apprentices avoid debt

Posted on 23 Sep 2010 by The Manufacturer

Anne Watson, MD of awarding body EAL takes a positive view of the predicted escalation of university fees.

The announcement from Lord Browne of Madingley at the beginning of this month that university tuition fees are set to rise once again has spurred a flurry of comments in broadsheet education pages on the probable impact this will have on university applications in the UK.

While research from the University of Leicester indicates that charging as much as £10,000 a year for a degree would not be a significant deterrent to most sixth-form applicants there was an indication that potential applicant from less wealthy backgrounds would be put off and also that variable course fees for different subjects might affect which degree courses were most heavily subscribed to.

Taking a positive view of the potential drop in university application Ann Watson, managing director of engineering awarding body EAL commented to TM that the increasingly positive profile of vocational qualification routes such as apprenticeships might actually benefit from increasing university tuition fees as students looking to avoid debt search for alternative routes into good careers.

“University is becoming more and more expensive, and a time will come when a degree becomes an option many people simply can’t afford,” she said. “As young people explore their further education options, they may well find the vocational route, with its combination of on-the-job and classroom based training, supported by a salary from day one, is a more attractive option than university. In a way, it may boil down to whether school leavers want an opportunity to learn skill for life or start their careers saddled with debt.”

Watson rallies the education sector saying: “At a time when graduate fees and living costs are rising and leading to worrying levels of debts, there is a duty for schools and colleges to inform students properly about alternative options, including vocational training. This advice is generally lacking in the current system, and as a result, young people are turning to university in the belief that this is their only option for a rewarding career.”

Watson comments that the lack university places this year had presented the skills sector with a golden chance to attract intelligent young people, saying: “An increase in interest in the skills sector is welcome, but we desperately need companies to take on apprentices. If they don’t, the UK’s ability to compete on a global scale in high-tech industries, such as engineering and around key issues including carbon reduction, will be threatened.

“I know money is scarce at the moment,” concludes Ann, “but the Government must encourage firms to train apprentices, not just declare an increase in the number of places available on courses. At the same time, firms must strategically ring fence budget to take on and develop the next generation of skilled worker. They will reap the benefits as statistics show apprentices’ productivity increases nearly 10 fold between years one and four of their training, demonstrating how investment in them is repaid in abundance!”

More detail on the future of university fees, the removal of the fee cap and whether or not the graduate tax supported by Nick Clegg will be adopted is expected on October 11.