Traditional degrees will not fill skills gap, says CBI

Apprentice Young people have different talents and learn in different ways argues the CBI

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The UK risks failing to close its "chronic skills gaps" by continuing to focus teenagers on the university "default route", say business leaders.

A growing demand for degree-level technical skills will not be met by traditional university courses alone, argues a CBI report.

Instead more young people should take shorter or part-time degrees and advanced apprenticeships, says the CBI.

Business Secretary Vince Cable welcomed the CBI's analysis.

"I agree with the CBI. A credible alternative to university is needed to help young people get the skills the economy needs", said Mr Cable.


The report, Tomorrow's Growth, predicts that by 2020 nearly half of all employment will be in "highly-skilled roles".

Meeting this challenge "rests on the extent to which we can widen gateways into skilled work and promote routes to higher skills that appeal to individuals for whom a degree may not be the best option", it argues.

In particular the authors say more young people should be encouraged to take technical and vocational courses which they say have long been undersold and should have parity of esteem with academic routes.

The report calls for better careers advice from an early age, and an end to the "information asymmetry" which "blights the system".

"What is now seen as the 'default route' of an undergraduate degree is not suitable for all, young people have different talents and learn in different ways.

"To become informed consumers, young people need access to better work inspiration from primary school on. We should aim to inspire but also be realistic, setting out the costs and likely return on the options open to young people, including the vocational options that have long been undersold."

The authors call for "a vocational Ucas system" with similar prominence and standing to the university entrance system.

This would provide "information on the full range of programmes available" and "improve visibility of these routes to young people".

They recommend more partnerships between colleges, universities and business to provide vocational training, with businesses expanding their commitment to high-quality training schemes such as apprenticeships, work-based training and fast-track schemes for school-leavers.

They urge universities to provide more "learn as you earn" education alongside traditional degrees. This would include employer-backed sandwich courses and more flexible degrees, "especially part-time ones".

The CBI's policy director Katja Hall said: "The UK needs to vastly increase the stock of workers with higher-level skills to drive long-term growth and stop us falling behind our competitors."

Start Quote

Universities must be much more innovative to take advantage of the change in students' approach. And we need businesses to roll up their sleeves and expand high-quality alternative routes. ”

End Quote Katja Hall CBI Policy Director

Ms Hall added that changes to the university finance system in England have meant that young people, facing tuition debts of £27,000 for a three-year course, are already becoming "savvier in shopping around for routes to give them the competitive edge in a tighter job market".

"Universities must be much more innovative to take advantage of the change in students' approach. And we need businesses to roll up their sleeves and expand high-quality alternative routes".

Uptake patchy

The report argues that there has been some progress but the uptake of apprenticeships is still "patchy and inconsistent".

It also urges the government to address the 40% drop in part-time undergraduate applicants in the past three years.

Mr Cable said the government was investing heavily to boost the number of apprentices.

He said it was introducing more than 40 new higher apprenticeship schemes in a range of subjects from advanced manufacturing to space engineering, "equivalent to getting a degree, but you're paid to train".

He added that the government had also set out plans "to get business and university to work together more".

Nicola Dandridge of Universities UK said: "We share the CBI's concern about the sharp downturn in recruitment to part-time higher education study and the impact on meeting the UK's skills needs".

A Universities UK review of part-time and mature higher education will report in October.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Erm... surely you mean IT since that's the infrastructure that underpins the comments. Media studies would have nothing to do with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    The University sector is powerful & hungry for students

    Unfortunately, most do not offer value for money based on £9k tuition fees, with many courses offering only 6-8 hours tuition, which equates to about £40 / hr for each student to sit in a lecture theatre with 100 other students

    Instead of building unwarranted debt many young people would be better getting practical trade skills

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    The middle classes see sending their children to university as a rite of passage, regardless of how worthless the resultant degree is and the lack of job prospects once graduated.

    Too many students end up wasting money on studying subjects which have no bearing on their future career and they leave university with too high a salary expectation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Quick way to get more people into Apprenticeships is to bring the apprenticeship minimum wage in line with the 'real' minimum wage- it might also stop unscrupulous employers abusing a vulnerable workforce by using the apprenticeship scheme as a way of paying lower wages.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    The polytechnic "sandwich course" system of 6 months study followed by 6 months industrial experience over 4 or 5 years was excellent. It allowed students to choose career paths based upon personal experience and also motivated study. Those students had a responsible attitude to life.
    Post graduation, masters degrees should be used to gain advanced competencies in the chosen career route.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Worst thing about university education; between starting and finishing ones chosen degree 10,000 immigrants will have arrived to do the jobs that one have been studying for. At least we have the worlds most highly educated pot-washers and shelf stackers. After finishing my PhD I spent 1 and a half years trying to find a job or apprenticeship of which there were virtually none and I was too old.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Over the last 2 decades. we've seen the rise of Globalisation. Initially in the UK it was the handwork that moved to the Far East. Clothing, bedding,... etc. Next, IT and Computing was moved to India. I heard recently that my old company is now moving its legal dept. to India,

    Just where are the future jobs?
    Just where are the future apprenticeships?

    It's the middle class jobs to go next!

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    The big mistake was to get rid of the old polytechnics. Too much focus on waffly subjects like media studies, we need to train more engineers, scientists and technologists and less on sports studies etc. !!!
    If it wasn't for "waffly subjects like media studies" you would not have been able to enter the boringly predictable comment above.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    @60 outsidethebox
    So presumably when your central heating breaks down you are going to send for a poet?

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    To be or not to be.
    Education v Training seems to be the focus of academic tension.
    Education to make the being an individual V Training to make a being part of a money making machine.
    Who in their right mind would chose a head full of nuts and bolts over a mind infused with poetry?
    The needs of the many, social services, far outweigh the needs of the few, industrialists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    The CBI are more interested in freeing up our university places for foriegn students because of the money it generates for their members than the opportunities it should provide for OUR youth.
    The access to higher education is being withdrawn through cost and competition from abroad.
    Just like our NHS I suppose.
    Don't you just love our generosity!

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Skilled plumbers, plasterers, decorators, gardeners, looking after children skills, looking after old people skills, community support skills, mediator skills etc. etc.

    Why does everyone want a useless piece of paper. Better that at 11 pupils get the chance to try out all these skills so that they can decide later which route they want to follow.

    Academic or the real world?

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Totally agree with this, but the training providers need to be focused on offering what industry needs rather than what youngsters think they want to do. CSI on the TV made forensic science sexy, and there are now more uni courses on that subject than there are jobs in the sector. I have struggled to find a training provider to support basic lab skills NVQs for technicians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    I agree, however, just where are the apprenticeships and the sandwich courses these day?
    It's claimed in the UK. it's harder to get an apprenticeship than it is to get into Oxbridge!
    I trained in industry for a decade and a half; and the last 8 apprentices I trained, only 1 still works in the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    We still have a snob mentality when it comes to education in this country when in truth a good apprenticeship is just as difficult as most degree courses.A nephew of mine served his apprenticeship in engineering and took a degree later and has never looked back having carved himself out a very rewarding career.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    My daughter frequently comments that her High School Teachers are only interested in encouraging pupils into the University system. They offer no advice about vocational training post 16. Too much emphasis is placed on pupils A level results and University placements, so the school looks good in the rankings.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    I think degrees have lost their value for sometime. I don't quite understand how some subjects can justify £9,000 a year for less than 9 hours of actual learning, with the other 31 hours on "personal study".

    You could keep your £9,000, spend £200 of it on textbooks, and have 40 hours of personal study.

    If you don't do STEM subjects, there's not much point in a degree.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Post-16 education in the UK is massively biased towards gaining qualifications on paper, rather than any experience or useful practical skills. Whilst this is great for a life in academia or a highly technical career, it's not great training for the vast majority of jobs/careers.
    An element of both aspects would be far more appropriate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Good grief, this has been obvious for years. The university system has been totally devalued.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    It's all well and good saying that only doctors and lawyers need to go to uni, but where are other jobs going to get their staff from? Unless employers start training people on the job properly.

    Young people will have to learn skills somewhere, and it's either going to be at Uni doing a 'worthless' degree or the employer will have to take responsibility.


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