Education & Family

Vocational courses call to UK universities

Scientist in lab
Image caption Universities are being urged to offer more practical and technical learning

UK universities should offer more practical and vocational learning, a survey for a think tank suggests.

A poll for Policy Exchange found 55% of adults believed too many people studied narrowly academic subjects.

Only 18% said universities had the right balance between academic and technical subjects.

Dr Wendy Piatt of the Russell Group of universities rejected this saying they were "the ideal learning environment which produces 'work-ready' graduates".

Nearly half (47%) of the 1,624 people questioned across the UK also said there was too much focus on academic subjects at school and not enough practical, job-related training for teenagers.

The poll, carried out by YouGov follows a report urging the government to improve the quality of apprenticeships.

In his report for the government, entrepreneur Doug Richard argued that apprenticeships must be "well regarded" if they are not to be viewed as a lower status alternative to university and said that short on-the-job training schemes were often not of good enough quality.

'Practical appetite'

The Policy Exchange commissioned the poll ahead of its own report on the state of vocational and technical education in the UK which is due next month.

Dr Owen Corrigan of Policy Exchange said: "This poll clearly shows that there is an appetite in Britain for a greater emphasis on job-related and practical learning in our education system.

Dr Corrigan suggested that with one in three students dropping out of their A-levels, a non-academic route into work or higher or further education might suit many of them better.

"Neighbouring countries offer strong technical and vocational routes through their education systems and enjoy some of the lowest youth unemployment rates in Europe at present. It is time for Britain to give serious consideration to expanding and improving provision in technical and vocational education."

'Big changes' ahead

Dr Piatt said: "For the majority of the most academically-able students, a degree at a leading university is the right choice. Many of our students also study for qualifications such as medicine, dentistry and law which are both academic and vocational.

"Our students get to work with world-class experts, use first-rate libraries and facilities, are part of a highly motivated and talented peer group and often engage with cutting-edge research."

Dr Piatt added that the combination of teaching and research excellence was an ideal learning environment with Russell group graduates typically earning 10% more than those from other universities.

Libby Hackett of the University Alliance of business-focused universities, said: "We can expect to see big changes to the way we work in the future - technological advances, changing global economies, environmental uncertainty. And we are going to need innovative and entrepreneurial graduates in the workforce to meet the challenges these changes will present.

"This is less about the subject you study and more about the way it is taught."

Ms Hackett added that the key was to maintain close links with industry and offer high quality work placements to students so that they were prepared "for the changing world beyond university".

A spokeswoman for Universities UK, the umbrella body for UK universities, said: "A key strength of the UK's higher education system is the diversity of courses offered across many different types of institution. It is vital that this remains the case in order to ensure student choice.

"In practice it is difficult to distinguish between vocational and academic subjects. Some subjects thought of as 'traditional' or 'academic', such as law, medicine, architecture and engineering, are in fact largely vocational."

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