Higher Education vs. Further Education… What’s the difference? And which one (if either!) is for me?
When it comes to what we do after school, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Some of those with an entrepreneurial spirit will dive straight into the workforce and climb their way up the ladder or somehow manage to fund and excel at a start-up with astonishing ease – but for most of us, it takes a little more moulding before we’re able to find the perfect job.
For that large majority of us, we want to hone our skills a little more before we start our careers. We know that having a qualification under our belt will either help us enter the workforce at a higher level or equip us with a trade to last a lifetime.
In this article, we’re going to talk about the two options for gaining qualifications after school to prepare you for the world of work. These qualifications will either constitute Higher or Further Education. But don’t worry – we’re going to explain what those mean, too!
What’s Higher Education?
Higher Education is an academic study route. When we talk about Higher Education, we’re usually talking about university courses. A bachelor’s degree is a form of Higher Education, and so are postgraduate degrees like a Master’s or PhD.
Degree subjects can lead to very specific careers such as when you study to become a doctor or lawyer. However, many subjects are much broader such as History or Languages. You gain a very high level of knowledge in one specific academic field.
What’s Further Education?
Like Higher Education (HE), Further Education takes place after you finish secondary school. However, unlike HE, Further Education doesn’t (usually) take place at a university. Rather, FE courses are run at colleges or through apprenticeship schemes in workplaces.
Normally, FE courses teach vocational skills such as bricklaying, hairdressing, childcare or catering. An NVQ is a form of FE, and so are many diplomas, awards and certificates. These courses are very much focused on workplace skills and equipping you to be great at a particular vocation.
Which one is better – Higher Education or Further Education?
Hmm, a hard question to answer! Of course, both types of post-secondary school education have their positive sides, and the type of person also matters a lot. If you’re the sort of person who loves reading, note-taking and listening to lectures, you may get on really well in a university environment. However, if you’re more hands-on, you might find FE a much better way to learn. Then, of course, it also depends on what you want to do as your career.
There are some careers you can’t pursue without a HE degree. Then again, there are plenty of careers you can’t get into without the right vocational skills. So, end goal matters a lot here.
That being said…
…The cost of Higher Education is getting insane and competition for jobs – even with a degree – is fierce. As of 2019, universities in England, Scotland and Wales can charge up to £9,250 a year for a university course. For accelerated courses (completed in less time), this can be as much as £11,100.
With most degree courses lasting three to four years, that means you’re looking at an average price tag of £27,750 – £37,000. That’s more than a little spare change!
According to Prospects, 2018 saw the lowest graduate employment rate in 39 years. Only 5.1% of university graduates were in employment within six months of getting their degree.
What’s more, when graduates did get into employment, nearly a quarter of them weren’t getting into professional roles. Around 12% found themselves working in a retail position.
However, employment rates were high among those who could turn their skills to filling a skills gap by taking a vocational role.
We can’t help but wonder…wouldn’t it have been easier to do FE instead?
Why Further Education is becoming the better choice
There are so many benefits to studying FE rather than committing to a costly no-guarantee university degree.
Here are just a few:
- They are so accessible! You don’t have to be an academic whiz kid to go onto FE. This means that those of us who aren’t born academics have the same opportunities to go into promising careers with decent salaries, even if our GCSEs weren’t the best.
- The cost of an entire NVQ – that’s right, the whole course – can be between £2-3k depending on the level of the qualification (1-8). That’s less than 10% of a university degree.
- They take less time. Most NVQs take only 9-12 months to complete.
- They can lead straight into employment. A lot of apprenticeship programs can lead to a job at the end with the workplace that trains you.
- You are no less likely to get a job than a university graduate. In fact, there are graduates using their degrees to fill vocational skills gaps. The job market needs FE students.
It paints a pretty impressive picture, doesn’t it? An affordable and accessible route into employment with even higher employment rates than graduates?
The fact is, the job market is oversaturated with HE graduates, leaving essential vocational skills needs unmet. On the other hand, FE offers options to a far greater percentage of school leavers with little or no debt and almost guaranteed employment.
And, what’s more, a Level 6 NVQ is equivalent to a degree level of learning. So, you have every opportunity to be just as highly educated, more skilled and more employable than HE graduates.
Ok, ok… we’ve pitched our case! We’re big fans of Further Education. However, it’s not for everyone. Some people thrive in a university environment or simply need to study a degree to fulfil their career aspirations.
But, there’s a huge percentage of us who could achieve incredible and awesome things through vocational training.
We hope this article has been useful and wish all of our readers the best of luck in their future study – whatever route you might take!