Rising interest rates on student fees aren’t just making a university education more expensive for young people – it exposes our over-reliance on universities to provide the preferred route into work. Instead, we should be giving students the power to pursue alternative career paths.
Offering young people different forms of education will allow them to truly utilise their talents and find a career that is right for them. To do this, and as recommended in the Sainsbury Panel Report, we must ensure that from an early age, youngsters are sign-posted and receive proper guidance on alternative technical education.
Students feel they now have only one viable way of getting close to a career they really want and this needs to change. For those who seek to utilise practical skills, learn a trade or start their own business, university will only delay them starting their careers and load them with unnecessary debt. And because it is increasingly expensive, many young people will be priced out and forced to explore other avenues anyway.
We currently rely far too much on universities to offer a one-size-fits-all solution to young people’s diverse ambitions.We should not, however, try to alter universities in the hope of accommodating every student’s career ambitions. Instead, we need to offer young people a broader range of learning pathways and empower them to take up other forms of education.
The government’s £500 million investment in technical education and its upcoming skills strategy could be a good start. But more needs to be done. Schools must start giving their students information on the costs and benefits of different education and career paths. Young people must be encouraged to think more, and from an early age, about what they want out of life. Getting to grips with the world of work early on can allow them to whittle down their choices. Informing them that university is not the only option is vital.
We could learn a thing or two from other countries about making alternative forms of education more attractive. For over 40 years, Germany has had a range of apprenticeships which don’t just offer students a great education with practical experience; this system is held in almost the same esteem as academic degrees. With students afforded the choice of pursuing a career which suits them, a healthy balance is struck between academic and technical institutions in the enrolment process.
Tony Blair’s proclamation that at least half of young people should attend university has long held sway over British society. It has led many of us to believe that a degree is essential to a fruitful working life. But this is an illusion which we should discard immediately. Universities cannot be expected to pave the way to a career for everyone. Championing alternative forms of education will allow every young person to truly thrive in the world of work.