Earlier this month, an article published on BBC revealed that some higher education students are paying up to ‘£1,000 an hour’ for tuition… £1,000 AN HOUR!!
This just got me thinking about how the two education systems compare at this moment in time. Obviously, they both have their place and they both have their pros and cons. But for school-leavers considering their options, are the negatives of the Higher Education system beginning to outweigh the positives now more than ever? Meanwhile, are apprenticeships now a more appealing prospect than they have ever been?
This ‘£1,000 an hour’ figure came from research published by the journal Fiscal Studies. The findings from this research suggest that on average, economics undergraduates receive a measly 26 hours of one-to-one teaching throughout their entire 3-year course. When you consider the £9,000+ a year tuition fees which they are faced with as well, that really doesn’t sound like great value for money.
Can you imagine if employers were expected to pay even a quarter of that for each hour of tuition their apprentice received from a training provider? One of two things would happen; either the assessor would never have more than two hours face-to-face tuition with the apprentice, or employers simply wouldn’t take on apprentices.
There just isn’t a great deal of good news surrounding the Higher Education system these days. Last year, England earned the title for the country with the highest degree debt in the English-speaking world. At around the same time, it was revealed that more than one-in-three young graduates are in low-skilled-jobs (jobs that don’t require a degree). I’m not sure on what that looks like in numbers, but I do know that is a lot of wasted degrees and unnecessary debt.
Unfortunately, the bad news doesn’t stop there either. UCAS data for 2016 to 2017 shows that the number of applicants for UK universities in 2017 has fallen 5% on last years figure. So all in all, it isn’t the prettiest of pictures for the Higher Education sector these days.
Now let’s just have a look at what the Further Education system is looking like at the moment.
To be honest, right at this moment in time, it is still all a little bit up in the air. Thousands of people that have been working in the industry for years still aren’t entirely sure on the changes that have taken place and the changes that are taking place. This year has seen one of, if not the biggest apprenticeship reform ever. It is the new structure, systems and terminologies that FE practitioners are still getting their heads around today. But we won’t go into explaining all of that, else we will get sidetracked and I could still be writing this article next week. Instead, you can have a read of our article; ‘What is changing in the world of Apprenticeships in 2017?‘ if you would like to find out more.
As for ‘Higher Education vs Further Education’; is the apprenticeship reform going to make apprenticeships more appealing and more accessible for school-leavers? Furthermore, will it play a significant role in encouraging more young people to see apprenticeships as an equally rewarding alternative to the traditional university route?
Unfortunately, we don’t know the answer to that, because only time will tell. But we can look into those two a’s in a bit more depth to give us an idea as to what the answers could be.
If someone asked you the question ‘what could be done to make apprenticeships more appealing?’ Would you think of fancy TV adverts showcasing apprenticeship success stories? Or, would you look at developing the quality of apprenticeships by making each apprenticeship more bespoke and relevant to the actual job role that the apprentice will be working in? Or, would your first thought just be ‘pay them more’? Either way, all of that has already happened!
The ‘GET IN GO FAR‘ campaign was introduced back in August 2014 to promote the benefits of apprenticeships. Along with the very fancy website that has been developed, there have been tv adverts running for a couple of years now showing what apprenticeships have done for young people already. The GET IN GO FAR campaign must be doing something right anyway; in the first three-quarters of the 2016/17 academic year, there were just under 2 million learners participating on a further education course.1
The Biggest Ever Pay Rise
Just over a year after the launch of ‘GET IN GO FAR’, there was the biggest ever rise in the national minimum wage for apprentices. Since then, there have been two further increases in the NMW for apprentices. Over the past few years, the national minimum wage for apprentices has risen from £2.73 to £3.50.
Change – For The Better
Finally, this year has seen the apprenticeship reform come into action. Every single apprenticeship now has (or is going to have) its own ‘Standard’ and every single standard was developed by a mixed group of employers within that industry. You can see what Apprenticeship Standards contain here. They were introduced to enable each apprenticeship to be tailored to meet the requirements of the specific role that the apprentice will be working in.
So, that’s what has been done to make apprenticeships more appealing, but what about accessible?
The Apprenticeship Levy
For those of you that don’t know, something called the Apprenticeship Levy was introduced earlier this year. Only companies with a pay bill greater than £3 million per year are required to pay into this levy. However, those same companies can use their levy money to fund apprenticeship training within their own organisations. Consequently, bigger companies should be taking on more apprentices for as long as the apprenticeship levy is continued. So, in terms of providing more opportunities for young people to gain employment in high-skilled-jobs after leaving school, the Apprenticeship Levy can only be a good thing, surely?
The 3 Million Pledge
In addition to this, the Conservative government is committed to providing more opportunities for young people to gain skilled work through the apprenticeship pathway. They have made apprenticeships a fundamental part of their skills plan. Back in 2015, the Conservatives announced their 3 million apprenticeships by 2020 pledge. More recently, in January of this year, the skills minister announced the creation of 200,000 new apprenticeships by 2020.
It really does go without saying that the Further Education system seems to have a lot more going for it at the moment. However, with all that being said, we can’t forget the value of degree level education. Especially considering it is the only pathway into some of the highest paid occupations in the world. If only there was an option to do some kind of combination of the two…
Higher and Degree Level Apprenticeships
Well, what do you know, it has already happened! Degree level apprenticeships were launched back in 2015. If you wanted to find out more about these then you should find the Guide to Degree and Higher Level Apprenticeships useful.
So, coming back to ‘Higher Education vs Further Education’, it has to be said that Further Education is winning at the moment. For a long time, apprenticeships have been undervalued and exploited. However, over the past couple of years, they have come a long way. The Apprenticeship Levy should help to encourage the larger companies to take on more apprentices and the apprenticeship reform has increased quality and relevance of apprenticeships. But if you still believe that an apprentice will earn far less than a university graduate in the long-term, then here’s some interesting research to leave you with…
Apprentices earn an average ‘Lifetime Earning Premium’ of £117,600 more than those with just A-Levels – with graduates earning just £2,200 more over a lifetime, or 1.8 per cent more. In some sectors, apprentices’ lifetime earning potential is 270 per cent more than graduates2. Furthermore, with rapidly increasing university fees, the Lifetime Earning Premium gap between graduates and apprentices looks set to diminish entirely, demonstrating that apprenticeships are a viable and worthy alternative to a university education – and will become increasingly important to the UK economy2.
1Departmaent for Education – National Statistics Office – Further Education and Skills in England July 2017 Release
2Figures from a Cebr and Barclays report “Productivity and Lifetime Earnings of Apprentices and Graduates” in 2016