Undersold as silver lining

Posted on 9 Aug 2010 by The Manufacturer

As concern mounts over the availability of university places this autumn, the Universities Minister points to apprenticeship opportunities.

Speaking on Sunday August 7, David Willetts, the Universities Minister, warned that an increase in the number of undergraduate places in 2010 would not be enough to prevent many high achieving students missing out on a university education altogether.

With thousands of teenagers eagerly awaiting their A-level results, Mr Willetts advised sixth-formers to consider either re-sitting their exams or taking an apprenticeship as an alternative to university.

Willets warned: “It is going to be tough. There are young people who sadly are not going to get a place, including perhaps some people who really have got good A-level grades, and for them there is a whole range of options.

“They can go into work and try to get training through apprenticeships, with 50,000 extra apprenticeship places, [and] there are more places at further education colleges…I think we should get away from the mindset that there is only one option.”

It is to be hoped that Mr Willets’ words will highlight for talented students who find themselves without university placement this year the equally advantageous opportunities available through apprenticeships and encourage them to reap the benefits of an applied qualification without the penalties now inherent in obtaining a degree.

However, there are some in education and industry who are sensitive to the double standard that still exists between academic qualifications and vocational training. For them there is a danger that Mr Willets’ association of apprenticeships with the option of re-sitting will attract an aura of failure or imply that vocational routes are second rate.

Ann Watson, managing director of EMTA Awards Ltd (EAL) commented to TM “It is encouraging to see an authoritative voice promoting apprenticeships and vocational training but it is very unfortunate that David Willets wording still presents valuable apprenticeships and the vocational route as the poor younger brother of academia when in reality they are anything but.

“ Vocational training is a real alternative for school leavers giving them not only a practical and work ready area of study but a salary to go along with it rather than student debt. An apprenticeship can open doors to a long and rewarding career, and should be seen as the first step to a career in a skilled industry, not as a second best to university.”