The Great Debate: Apprenticeships Vs. Universities

Do I go to university or do I get an apprenticeship? This is the question that all school leavers will be asking themselves at some point but it is no longer as easy question to answer. In recent times there has been a leveling of the playing field. Before apprenticeships were seen as the lesser option between the two and a degree was seen as the more prestigious and respected route to take. However, recent changes to Higher Education and more companies considering employing younger people has allowed the apprenticeship market to flourish.

Figures were released in October showing that more and more people were pursuing the apprenticeship route. The figures showed that 370,000 more people were on an apprenticeship compared to 2009/10. The Minister for Skills, Matthew Hancock said 'Our insistence that they must have a minimum duration, involve on-the-job training, and respond to the needs of employers means that it is rapidly becoming the new norm to take an apprenticeship...' Adding that 'This is good news for the economy, and good news for those getting the skills they need to prosper. There are now more options than ever before with a focus on the quality and rigour that people and employers want from apprenticeships.'

While at the other end, Universities are now beginning to worry about not being able to attract the best school leavers, when they chose school leaver programmes instead. The Vice Chancellor from the University of Reading, Sir David Bell, spoke to the Daily Telegraph this week and said that school leavers can 'go into work in a company at 18, get on-the-job training, almost certainly not saddled with debt of any sort, and probably - at the same age contemporaries are coming out of university - be slightly better positioned in terms of immediate job opportunities.'

Let's take a look at the key differences:

1. Type of work

Before, there were set professions that school leavers and university graduates had open to them. Depending on what you chose to study and were would dictate your career path, while school leavers could have no ambitions of pursuing some of the professional careers without attending university.

That has now changed. Companies have began to invest in recruitment and training of younger people without a university degree. School leavers can now pursue careers in Accountancy, Engineering and Marketing, whereas before these were fields that required degrees. Although the majority of the opportunities are available for graduates, this is likely to become more equal over the coming years.

Score: Apprenticeships 0 - 1 University

2. Money and earnings

The availability of earnings for school leavers is a contentious issue. While university graduates often expect higher salaries, although they do not always want to receive them. THey have already invested in their own futures. With the current cost of going to university meaning that graduates are coming out with a staggering £60,000 worth of debt, their earnings need to bare this in mind.

On the other hand, apprentices and those that get on school leaver schemes are not saddled with a mountain of debt and they are able to start earning from the word go, without having deductions on every pay slip for years and years. While starting salaries are lower for school leavers, but they will have three years on graduates in terms of career progression.

Score Apprenticeships 1 - 1 University

3. Prestige and respect

The prestige afforded to university degrees in times gone by has often meant that graduates were seen as a privileged employee. However, since the opening up of Higher Education and university attendance sky rocketing since 1997, graduates are a lot more common place. Many people are told that the only way to an accomplished career or reputable job is only accessible by having a degree.

This has changed, with more school leaver programmes and apprenticeships being offered by white collar companies school leavers are able to forge a better career for themselves. Combined with graduates, in general, not being as rare or well received, the options are lending themselves more to the apprenticeship route.

Score Apprenticeships 2 - 1 University

Over all it appears that the option between choosing to attend university or pursue a career after A levels or GCSEs is not as clear cut as it once was. Apprenticeships are no longer just for the manual or skilled professions, but now have opened up to offer careers in sectors once held as the primary reserve of the degree holding graduates. The decision now rests on whether you want to risk spending £60,000 on a degree that does not guarantee you a job but rather puts you in a marginally better position than you were 3 years ago.

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