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Students lack understanding of university alternatives


One in four students feel they lack an understanding of university alternatives, a new survey has revealed.

Popular chat board The Student Room found that of around 4,000 current and prospective students, around three quarters felt expected to choose university over an apprenticeship, gap year or vocational course. More than half admitted their parents had the strongest influence over their decisions, followed by their head of sixth form and friends. Most cited job prospects and interest in their subject as the primary reasons for going to university, just ahead of increased independence.

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With around 300,000 teenagers across the UK due to receive their A-level results tomorrow, just over a third of those surveyed believe the value of the qualifications has decreased, with the majority saying it had stayed the same or they did not know.

The Student Room’s managing director Jason Geall thinks more needs to be done to help teenagers match their strengths and ambitions to their future paths.

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“University is the right option for many A-level students, but only for the right reasons in students’ best interests,” he said. “Most want to investigate all options before committing to a life-changing and career-defining decision."

However, an increasing number of young people are choosing to bypass university altogether. Figures released by the Skills Funding Agency in June showed that 129,900 young people under the age of 19 began apprenticeships in 2011/12, while notgoingtouni.co.uk has seen the number of applications through its website more than double this year.

Accountancy, engineering, I.T, hospitality and childcare are the top five most applied-for sectors on the site, which includes college courses, vocational training programmes, apprenticeships and job openings.

Sarah Clover from notgoingtouni.co.uk said: “Every year, young people up and down the UK are faced with the nerve-wracking experience of collecting their exam results, which they often think determine what they can and can't do with their future. However, there's no such word as 'can't' in this day and age. We want people to know that, while a good option for some, university isn't the be-all and end-all."

Katja Hall, the CBI’s chief policy director agrees that the perception that A-levels and a three-year degree are the only route to a good career is something that needs tackling. She believes the shortage of suitably qualified workers means apprenticeships, ‘sandwich’ courses with a year in industry and shorter or part-time degrees should be encouraged.

"Faced with the £30,000 debt and a tougher job market, top-quality training, a guaranteed job and avoiding tuition loans is a big carrot to dangle," she said.