The UK schools examination results having been published in the past few days, careful consideration is probably still being given by many to the question of which if any, college or university to attend for securing their desired degree. Others will have been offered places at their chosen or other place of learning and be planning study arrangements and accommodation.
Yet the cost of higher education is now so high that some young people will be considering whether there are other less expensive means of pursuing worthwhile careers in life.
The Times newspaper headline this morning reads:
"Top schools push pupils away from universities." The article suggests that the number of private school pupils taking BTec vocational qualifications has doubled in 4 years. Other pupils are heading directly into work through the government apprentice route introduced in 2015. Germany has had such arrangements for years which apparently are very successful there.
As annual university fees in England are around £9,250, a student leaving uni after an average 3 year bachelor's degree course, would be likely to have incurred debts of over £30,000 before earning any salary or starting say to buy an home.
In my own degree days some 50 years or so ago, there were grants for students a rather than loans. There were also no fees to pay though hardly 4% of school leavers went on to higher education upon leaving school. That compares with 32.5% of school leavers in 2016, making the public cost of higher educational provision, far smaller in say 1970 than in 2017.
Prima facie the position seems more favourable to prospective students in 2017 than in 1970 as so many more now have the opportunity than their peers did c.50 years ago but is the university entrance possibility in fact more favourable today? There were of course fewer universities 50 years ago even taking into account other seats of higher education such as Polytechnics, than there are in 2017. Society has moved perhaps too far, in the direction of university education, by providing the same for all who wish to go down that route rather than for those who would really benefit themselves and the nation, by securing university degrees.
Courses at institutions of questionable academic merit for individuals who may secure little benefit in being awarded a degree in say media studies from such institutions but will still have the burden of c. £30,000 debts, seem wasteful of personal talent as well as expensive and inefficient for society at large.
Should not there be more promotion of apprenticeships and the BTec route mentioned above, followed by a gradual cull of places of higher education? This would of course result in fewer "universities" but would also facilitate large reductions in fees payable by students attending them.
From the perspective of the solicitors' profession, the arrangement 50 years ago was that an individual could qualify with the Law Society by working for 5 years ("articles of clerkship") in the solicitor's office and taking professional exams. The alternative was to go to university, secure a degree and then undertake 2 years articles, again with Law Society professional exams before entering the profession.
The 5 year non-university route for qualifying as a solicitor was abolished years ago but in my view consideration should now be given to its reinstatement.