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More vocational qualifications of greater value to society than more grads

To mark A-Level results, the public were asked which ONE, if any, of the following society would benefit MOST from:

•             More university graduates: 7%

•             More young people trained through NVQs, apprenticeships or on the job training: 59%

•             More young people going straight into work after completing compulsory education (eg, not going to college / sixth-form, or university): 13%

•             More young entrepreneurs (ie, starting their own business): 8%

•             None of these: 3%

•             Don’t know: 10%

70% of people aged 55 believe practical training (NVQs, apprenticeships and on the job training) are of most value to society, while only 46% of people aged between 16 and 24 believe the same. Just 4% of people aged 55 believe more university graduates would benefit society, while 14% of people aged 16 - 24 believe the same.

Hattie Wrixon, 21, co-founder of Uni’s not for me, says, “This research reflects what we are seeing at Uni’s not for me. Every day, I meet all kinds of people considering their future and am proud that we are a growing community of young people who are ambitious and focused, but don’t see three years living on baked beans and vodka as necessary career preparation.

“Our mission is to help young people find their own mission in life, and to encourage them to think and act independently. We are working with schools and sixth form colleges to provide information and advice on the alternatives to university. We are actively campaigning for a change in the way schools are measured, as we believe the value of league tables based solely on academic results is limited. In the future, we want a system that measures the way young people are prepared for life, not just for university.

“We are also working with an increasing number of employers, from big firms like EY, AAT and Pret A Manager to ambitious start-ups, to identify bright, motivated young people hungry to kick start their careers through practical, hands-on training. New graduates are now having to compete with young people who have had three or four years’ experience in the workplace.”

Pret A Manger is just one company promoting the alternatives to university through its School Leavers Programme, which is now in its fourth year.

Kate Nicholls, Pret A Manger’s school leavers programme manager, says, “We don’t expect our participants to have lots of work experience under their belts or a CV full of qualifications. Instead, we are looking for passionate, enthusiastic, motivated individuals who are excited by their next challenge and raring to get going.

“Our school leavers really benefit as they earn and continue to learn. They gain real life work skills and grow in confidence. We have seen such a lot of passion and enthusiasm from the young people who have joined us. They have shown a lot of potential and talent and we know they will continue to grow with us.

“Many school leavers aren’t sure about going to university, and university is not for everybody. My advice is to take some time out and look at the other options that are available to you.”

Sarah Wrixon (Hattie’s mother), co-founder of Uni’s not for me with Hattie and MD of Salix & Co, a PR company specialising in the health, education and social sectors says: “When the high mistress of St Paul’s Girls’ School, the best performing school in the country, warns that bright girls may consider university “a waste of time” it’s time to listen. University is wonderful for many things, but so are many of the alternatives. Implicit in the small number of people who believe we need more graduates is the fact that we already have far too many.

“A survey by Which last year showed that a fifth of students thought their degrees were not worth the fees. The reality is that university degrees vary hugely in their value to employers.

“Although we are beginning to see a rebalance, year on year exam results delivering higher and higher grades benefit no one. 30 years ago, it was exceptional to achieve three A-Level A grades, and first class degrees were equally rare. Now, the bewildering numbers of A*s and firsts catapult an expectation that employers struggle to meet.

“Recently a young man applied for an account manager role with us. In his mid-twenties, he had an excellent job filtering stories for a global news agency but was & lsquo;aghast’ that no one seemed to & lsquo;know or care that I have a first in anthropology’. I asked him how he thought he could use that to make a difference to the productivity and quality of our work. He was unable to answer the question.”

The Uni’s not for me research is published as increasing numbers of young people, their parents and teachers, are questioning the value of a university degree. Speaking this week, Mary Curnock Cook, the chief executive of UCAS and herself a university attendee in her 40s, said students can no longer assume a good degree will result in a well-paid, interesting career.

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