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79% of People in Wales Not Told About Alternatives to Degrees at School


New research has revealed that not enough is being done to educate young people about alternatives to university – meaning billions could be being wasted on tuition fees each year as a result.

The nationally representative study of 2,000 people by AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) found that only 21% of people in Wales said that they heard about alternatives to degrees, such as apprenticeships, while at school, and 61% think there should be more resources available to help people learn about them.

As a consequence, misconceptions and apprehensions about apprenticeships are commonplace: the research showed that 43% of people in Wales believe that apprenticeships don’t pay enough, and 21% think that they are only available for manual labour jobs. Meanwhile, only 54% see them as a good alternative to university and just 37% are aware that apprenticeships enable people to earn whilst they learn.

At the same time, the research revealed that 42% of all people aged 21-45 believe their degree has not played an essential role in their careers to date, and 16% of all people with degrees wish that they had chosen a different route. This figure rose to 20% of those aged up to 24 years – the highest amongst any age group – suggesting that the 2012 tuition fee increase and ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on in-person teaching are contributing to growing regret around the decision to attend university.

With around 1.8 million undergraduate students in the UK, each paying up to £9,250 each year, this equates to more than £9.6bn being potentially wasted on degree courses annually.

When asked about the careers advice they received at school, 18–24-year-olds were 28% more likely than average to say that the advice was focused on careers after university, with 41% agreeing with this statement.

Interestingly, 18–24-year-olds were also the least likely to say that they had found it useful (28%). Those aged 65 and over were the most likely to say they had found it useful (42%), with the number steadily decreasing with age.

Throughout the early 2000s, careers advice in schools was delivered by the governmental information, advice, guidance and support service, Connexions. However, following public spending cuts under the Coalition Government, the careers element of the Connexions service was dismantled and devolved to individual schools in 2012, meaning there is currently no requirement for standardised careers advice for those aged 13-19.

Commenting on the research, Anthony Clarke, Business Development Manager, AAT, said:

“Our research paints an interesting picture of the careers advice being given to young people. Although we might think that information is widely available about different options including apprenticeships, this data would suggest that many schools are still pushing students towards university, and perhaps even more so than in previous decades.

“While university is of course the right path for some people, with tuition fees now so high and the changing provision of university education such as shifts towards blended learning, it is certainly not a decision to be taken lightly. It’s important for everyone to know that alternative options for qualifications are available, and that student debt isn’t an inevitable accompaniment to successful professional careers.

“It’s often the case that apprentices find spending three years spent in the workplace, working with and learning from experienced professionals, coupled with the opportunity to gain professional qualifications, is of greater benefit to their future careers than going to university.

“Apprenticeships offer a fantastic way into many different careers and sectors, with the opportunity to earn while you learn. It’s a real shame that a fifth of people are left regretting their higher education choices when this could have potentially been avoided with access to better or more tailored careers advice.”

Former AAT apprentice, Jordan Harley, said:

“Before studying with AAT, I was on an ILM apprenticeship which was based with Blaenau Gwent and Caerphilly Workforce Development alongside completing my business degree. I did this for two years and gained a vast understanding of the working world. Being able to use the knowledge I learnt at university in real world scenarios was also very beneficial.

“Initially I was given the opportunity to study AAT Level 2 through my previous role and really enjoyed it. At the time I was only 21 and still had no real idea on what career path I wanted to take. After finishing the level and completing finance modules at university, it was definitely something that really interested me and that I could see myself doing as a day-to-day job.

“I have since completed my Level 3 Advanced Diploma in Accounting, achieving a final grade of Distinction with 94%! I’m now looking to begin the Level 4 Professional Diploma in the coming months. I’m studying part-time with a local college which has provided me with a great amount of support and guidance.

“I’m also currently working as an accountancy trainee as part of the apprenticeship scheme at Blaenau Gwent Council. I’ve worked here for 13 months and have enjoyed every moment. My employer also supports me in my studies with allowing me time off to go to college, study days and time off for exams which is invaluable.

“The best part of studying with AAT has been meeting new people. I’ve met a vast range of fellow students of all ages, with different skill sets and from different career backgrounds. Being part of a group with a common goal has been really valuable and the support you get and the support you provide to others really benefits everyone. It’s also allowed me to take on more responsibility at work which has been brilliant – I now feel more confident to take on tasks I’m unfamiliar with due to the knowledge I’ve gained.

“AAT is seen as a high-quality qualification by employers and this, partnered with the knowledge and understanding I’ve developed by doing each level, has given me confidence to do many roles. I’m now aiming to become a professional member within the next 18 months and then hopefully go on to become a chartered accountant.”

To find out more about apprenticeships with AAT and how they can benefit individuals and businesses, please visit the AAT website.