The bright pupils who shun university for a head start

By Katherine Sellgren
BBC News education reporter

Image caption,
Das, 18, has decided to bypass university and start a career in accountancy immediately

University applications might be at record levels but not everyone is convinced that a degree is the key to future success.

Das Bikramjit Gakhal has an A, two Bs and a C at A-level, but he is not going to university.

He did apply and was offered places but withdrew from the admissions service Ucas when he realised he could pursue his chosen career of accountancy "on the job".

Having done his A-levels this summer, Das will take up a job as an audit trainee with MacIntyre Hudson in September, while studying for an Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) qualification.

Once that is done, he will study with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).

"It's a much quicker route than university - you become chartered in four years," said Das, 18, from Leicester.

"Whereas if I went to university, it's four years and then I'd still have to do my ACCA qualification, which normally takes two years."

Debt fears

Das plans to stay living at home for now and knows he will miss out on some of the social aspects of university life, but he believes the financial risks associated with studying for a degree are not worth taking.

He said: "I was worried about debt, about coming out with all that debt on my shoulders.

"And then you hear in the news that graduates are graduating... but they're not able to find a job."

Laura Griggs, 19, from Leeds, took a similar path to Das last year and has no regrets: "I'd had enough of full-time education.

"It's an enormous debt for three years, when you can get the qualification without getting into debt and earn money at the same time.

Image caption,
Laura, 19, wanted to go straight into the world of work

"Everybody seems to go to university, so this is a bit different."

Laura is earning around £15,000 a year with Sagars in Leeds and is set to finish her AAT qualification in one and a half years.

She hopes to become a chartered accountant by the time she would have graduated had she gone to university.

Adam Cooper, 19, from Manchester also decided against the more conventional route, but is on track to become a solicitor by the time he is 25.

He was planning to do A-levels, but a chance conversation with a worker at Pannone law firm made him realise he could start work and study at the same time.

The same law firm offered him an office assistant job and he started studying for an Institute of Legal Executives (Ilex) professional diploma when he was 16.

He is now working towards the Ilex Professional higher diploma in law and practice, which will allow him to become a solicitor.

He earns more than £15,000 and says that putting theory into practice every day helps enormously with his studies: "While I've been quite capable academically, I get more value out of things when I practise at doing things.

"But it's by no means an easy way out, because the extra studying involved is intense."


The website notgoingtouniversity, which offers young people advice on opportunities, says deciding against higher education can be a difficult decision for young people.

Image caption,
Some graduates are struggling to find work in the current economic climate

"There is an awful lot of pressure to go to university, which is why the drop-out rate is so high," says its communications director Sarah Clover.

Annual performance indicators from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show 7.4% of young undergraduates left university after one year in 2007.

"The one-size-fits-all approach is not working and we're there to show there are other perfectly valid routes," said Ms Clover.

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts says the government recognises that there is more than one route into "well-paid and fulfilling work".

"Further education and on-the-job training are of vital importance, which is why this government is investing in further education and has provided 50,000 extra high quality apprenticeships," he said.

Degrees of benefit

But the government also says university graduates, on average, have better employment prospects and can expect to earn at least £100,000, after tax, more than non-graduates over their working lives.

And it is hard to imagine making it to the very top of many professions without a degree or avoiding snobbery and barriers along the way.

A spokesperson for Universities UK said students "clearly appreciate" what university provides and value their student experiences.

"University is a life-changing, long-term investment that has benefits both for the individual and society generally.

"It helps individuals hone their thinking and analytical skills, gives them confidence, and the ability to re-skill as life changes."

But for Das Gakhal, going straight into employment while gaining qualifications is the obvious head start.

"The whole general route appealed to me - when I did my research, I found most employers wanted experience and through this route, I'll be able to gain experience and still get this qualification.

"I'll get a much better experience of accountancy and I'll have a head start on people who come out of university."

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