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Are vocational qualifications a viable alternative to degrees?


For those who are less academically-inclined, not going to university does not necessarily have to mean the end of the road for their education.

The same goes for people who have entered the workforce but have decided that they want to reinvigorate their career or change direction and improve on their current level of education.

They do not have to go to university, but can instead opt for more practical education, for example choosing bookkeeping and finance courses in London or a secretarial diploma.

Alternative Option

This might also be a preferable option for the thousands of students who are expected to miss out on a place at university due to the rising numbers applying to higher education institutions.

“Many young people and adults are now looking at vocational qualifications in the current economic climate as a route that will help secure employment either as new employees – young people – or change of employment for adults whose jobs are insecure,” confirmed a spokesperson for the government’s Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency.

“These are a viable alternative for people who decide against university, for whatever reason,” he added.

The recent Leitch Report has helped to boost the development of this type of study, with new diplomas for young people being introduced and qualifications being reformed, the representative said.

This review highlighted the critical importance of raising skills levels among workers in the UK.


According to the QCDA representative, “the ‘market’ for vocational qualifications is vibrant” and schemes such as Train to Gain are helping to highlight their relevance to employers.

“Employees are increasingly looking at vocational qualifications as a means to secure both employment and career progression,” he added.

The Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) are also helping to ensure that qualifications are designed with employers in mind, meaning there is a “real impetus” in this area, he said.

There are 25 of these organisations representing various sectors and they work to ensure that training and skills development is employer-focused, so that students are receiving an education that will genuinely prepare them for the workplace.

“A number of reports have continued to highlight the importance of employability skills for people entering work, whether these are young people coming through an academic route or through a more vocational route,” the spokesperson elaborated.

He said that practical training courses which have been designed within the new Qualifications and Credit Framework will help to address employers’ concerns about a candidate’s suitability for a role by demonstrating knowledge, competence and employability.

The likes of legal secretary courses, medical secretary training or accounting courses in London could provide the ideal alternative for young people who have ambitions of extending their education and gaining employment but do not want to go to university.

Customised Training

“Vocational qualifications offered in a variety of contexts and at higher levels remain a preference for many parts of the employment sector, particularly in the current economic climate where competition for jobs is fierce,” the QCDA representative explained.

He said that possessing such credentials demonstrates good employment-related skills.

“With SSCs defining standards and the content that employers need and employers increasingly engaged in the qualifications and units that suit their customised needs for the 21st century, gaining vocational qualifications means that employees and those seeking work have relevant, quality-assured, up-to-date work-based and work-related training,” he continued.

As employers increasingly seek evidence of practical knowledge and training, university graduates are also looking to add to their degrees with vocational qualifications.

The QCDA representative confirmed: “As the market for jobs gets more competitive and as the level of skills required for many jobs is higher than ever, new style vocational training and qualifications will become more relevant and important for people’s lives and employment chances.”

“Of course, for many professions an academic route is important but the ability to take account of work skills within an academic programme is becoming important in the competitive employment market as well,” he concluded.

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