Degrees aren't the only route to a good career, says CBI, but with the DfE fixated on Oxbridge will the message be ignored?

Janet Downs's picture
“We need to tackle the perception that the A-levels and three year-degree model is the only route to a good career.”

Katja Hall, CBI Policy Director, 31 July 2013

Sir Michael Wilshaw, Ofsted’s chief, would appear to agree with her, at least in theory:

“…students [should] know what opportunities are open to them and develop the confidence to make the most of these. They need tutoring, guidance and encouragement…,”

But the Department for Education (DfE) wants schools judged on the post-school destinations of students – and it makes it clear which route is the most prestigious: university. And not just any university – it should be Oxbridge or, failing that, another one in the Russell Group.

The CBI challenges the Government, universities and industry. Advice includes:

1 The Government should “reform student finance arrangements to allow universities greater freedom to design short-courses and tailored programmes for business – including one or two-year compressed degrees.”

2 The Government should “exempt strategically important subjects” from the rules which prohibit funding for part-time degrees for students with equivalent or lower qualifications. These rules hold back older students who need to reskill.

3 The Government should “route apprenticeship funding through employers”.

4 The Government should consider apprenticeship tax credits paid via PAYE. The CBI hopes this would increase demand for more advanced training.

5 Higher education providers should work with employers to identify what skills are needed and design “tailor curriculum and courses”.

6 Industry needs to be clear what skills are required and work with universities and colleges to create appropriate provision.

7 A “single portal” should be set up with information about industry-backed higher education courses and on-the-job training. This should include employment outcomes for each route. The CBI hopes this would bring “parity of esteem” between the different routes. (The website notgoingtouni is a good start).

8 The Government should put in place more support for schools so that pupils can be fully informed about all available options, costs, future employment prospects and returns.

But while the Government and Ofsted is fixated on Oxbridge then schools are more likely to act in their own interests. If league table position is governed by how many pupils go to “elite” universities then it is more likely that schools will promote this route to the detriment of others.

The CBI is right to say that there is more than one route to a good career. The difficulty is persuading the Government of that – its obsession with Oxbridge implies that anything else, even studying at non-elite universities never mind apprenticeships, is second-best.

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