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Nathan Pearson-Smith

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If University isn’t an option, what are the alternatives?


As part of our monthly theme, Nathan Pearson-Smith offers up a few options for tomorrow's workforce.
According to recent UCAS reports, the number of UK students applying to start university this autumn has fallen by 8.9%. Just over 50,000 fewer students have applied to start September degree courses, compared with the same time last year. In England, university applications have dropped by an overall 10%, with a fall of under 5% in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Whilst the drop in application numbers indicates less strenuous procedures for universities, of those 50,000 non-applicants, what are their alternative options away from university? Are they aware of them? As the government loosens focus on driving young people towards further education, this is their opportunity to support not only young people who have decided against going to university but also those who unfortunately haven't met the benchmark.
It's important that we don't kid ourselves into thinking everyone who applies for university is guaranteed a place - the harsh reality is, due to a number of factors it's never been so difficult. However, there are plenty of alternatives to further education such as apprenticeships, work placements and volunteer schemes. The government must highlight the benefits of such schemes to ensure these individuals aren't 'lost' if they fail to meet university entry requirements.
"Apprenticeships and work-based qualifications have never been more heavily supported in the UK not just by the government but most importantly by UK businesses"
Apprenticeships and work-based qualifications have never been more heavily supported in the UK not just by the government but most importantly by UK businesses, as they see apprenticeships as a profound way of giving young people the skills they need to perform in a business and at the same time retain valued staff.
The support and backing starts with UK employers - both big and small, giving 16-24 year olds a chance to build their careers from the ground up. Those who are out of work, education or training should look to an apprenticeship to try and kickstart a career in their field of expertise.

Whilst we can only speculate on why university applications have declined, the general consensus seems to be that the coalition government's introduction of £9000 university fees is the main contributor in deterring young people.

The report also reveals that young people in disadvantaged areas are still almost three times less likely to apply to university than their richer peers, which worryingly suggests young people from poorer backgrounds are making life changing decisions to not go through with further education - purely because they've been priced out.

Shadow universities minister Shabana Mahmood said: "The UCAS application figures today show that the decision of the Conservative-led Government to treble tuition fees to £9,000 is hitting young people and their aspirations."

The underlying objective should be to ensure young people don't become NEETS, as losing a generation of untapped talent would be a costly mistake. In the case of further education vs employment, there should be no right or wrong answer but simply a well-supported decision.

This article was originally a blog post on TrainingZone. If you have something to say, then why not start blogging today? 

Nathan Pearson-Smith is apprenticeship ambassador for Youth Connextions


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