Universities increasingly take on new students with vocational qualifications instead of A-levels


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The Independent Online

Growing numbers of teenagers with top-class vocational qualifications are being recruited by UK universities while the number with A-levels dwindle, according to figures released today.

A report by UCAS, the university admissions service, show the number of pupils with top A-level passes (a minimum of one A grade and two Bs) has fallen by three per cent this year compared with 2013. Meanwhile, the number holding the BTEC equivalent in passes have risen by 16 per cent to 34,580.

The drop in top A-level students coincides with a fall in the number of candidates obtaining A* to B grade passes, as growing numbers of students switch to traditional academic subjects such as maths and science. In addition, it coincides with a fall in the average age of people taking the exam.

The growth in students with vocational qualifications comes as ministers and employers have been pressing the need for more students to opt for courses giving them the skills the UK needs to compete in the global market.

The Government this year increased the number of places available by 30,000 as a first step towards removing student number controls altogether in 2016. As a result, many of the country’s newer universities have been able to recruit students with vocational qualifications while the more selective universities have remained concentrating on the those coming through the traditional academic route.

This year’s enrolment shows a record number have signed on for university courses, with 499,730 applying for courses within a month of getting their exam results. The final figure is expected to exceed the half-million mark by about 10,000.

A breakdown shows the increase in recruitment has been more marked amongst EU recruits where there has been an eight per cent rise - compared with an overall increase of just four per cent.

A report last week by the highly respected Higher Education Policy Institute warned an influx of EU students would make it more difficult for the Government to recoup the loans they have paid. Already EU students owe about £690m in unpaid loans.

“Government reforms have made it possible for record numbers of young people to enter university this year,” said Universities Minister Greg Clarke. “Increasing the number of places by 30,000 was an important feature of an orderly transition to uncapped student numbers.”