UK 6th in world for attainment at degree level but this advantage will be lost unless post-school opportunities are widened, says CBI

Janet Downs's picture
The UK is 6th in the world for attainment at degree level according to the OECD, the CBI pointed out. But this advantage could be lost unless post-school options are changed*.

The CBI warned about skill shortages in key sections of the economy while demand for lower level skills falls**. The perception that traditional university-based courses were the only route to a good career was holding back the development of key skills especially in science and technology.

There should be more partnerships between higher education and industry to increase the number of “learn-while-you-earn” options, the CBI recommended. At the same time there should be a boost in the number of higher apprenticeships and more flexible study routes, such as part-time degrees.

Finance was a “core concern” for those entering higher education although students were becoming more savvy about what courses would result in “sustained employment”. However, access to information about different routes was poor. The CBI noted that vocational options had been “long undersold” as a post-school option and there was no evidence that this was changing. Over 50% of young Germans took up vocational options in upper secondary education; in the Netherlands it was 71%. But in the UK it was only 32%.

Careers guidance must give pupils the skills to navigate through an ocean of information, said the CBI. This means that doling out leaflets or directing pupils to the internet is not sufficient. The CBI recommended that the Government provide more support to schools in complying with their statutory duty to provide impartial careers advice.

However, as schools are judged on the number of pupils they send to university then the vocational options will continue to be “undersold”. Pupils are likely to be steered towards the option which will result in more kudos for schools.

NOTE: the last paragraph is the author’s opinion. This problem was not mentioned in the CBI report.


*The CBI’s recommendations are summarised here.

**FullFact found that the growth in jobs expected by 2020 will be in jobs requiring higher level qualifications (Levels 3 and 4 qualifications). However, three sectors bucked this trend: customer service and elementary administration (Level 1 qualifications) and caring/personal services (Level 2 qualifications)

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