Of 3,800 students who embarked in 1992 on a pilot scheme of work-related subjects, 1,900 left without qualifying and a further 700 passed some units but failed to complete others, the first results showed. Subjects include 'leisure and tourism' and 'hospitality and catering'.
A lesser, intermediate level award designed to take one year attracted about 53,000 students but only 15,500 completed the course. A further 14,000 gained some units.
There was some encouragement for the new advanced- level General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQs), though. Of those students who did pass and applied to universities, 85 per cent found a place. In general, just 76 per cent of applicants win university places.
The GNVQs, which are designed to provide an alternative route into higher education, have been taken up enthusiastically by both schools and colleges, and officials estimate that 90,000 students could take the courses next year. They have already been at the centre of controversy, with academics protesting that external examiners should mark at least 60 per cent of the final assessments. At present, the course is assessed in colleges by tutors.
Officials at the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ), which oversees the awards, said that they were designed so students could take their time, with eight individual units building up to a full award.
The most popular advanced course was business studies, which was completed by more than 1,100 students. The manufacturing course was completed by just 21 students, and a course in health and social care by 363.
Professor Alan Smithers, of Manchester University, one of the most vocal critics of the courses, said the modular structure tended to make them open-ended. He said students should be expected to finish within one or two years. He said that even though students must pass eight external tests to get an advanced GNVQ, the fact that the final mark was decided by a student's tutors left it open to question. 'If the external assessment limit was strengthened . . . we could have more confidence in the results,' he said.
John Hillier, chief executive of the NCVQ, said the drop-out rates were to be expected. 'It is only the pilot year, and it has always been the case with vocational qualifications that people drop out sometimes because they are more likely to get a job. There are also some indications that people drop out because they find it too difficult,' he said.
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