Is University the only way?
8 August 2018
The nerves and excitement bubble up and collide this week as
young people and their families in Scotland receive their exam
results. One small tear of an envelope or beep of a text and the
future that young people are planning can feel illuminated or
potentially dimmed. Whichever way it goes there is always a
way forward and plans for the future can progress.
It is essential for us all to remember it is not make or break.
The step you choose to take now does not define your whole career
but is a stepping stone to the next opportunity. There are
different routes to the same destination, some slower and some
faster - but none are wrong.
Research undertaken by Developing the Young Workforce in the
Lothians has highlighted a mismatch in public and parental
awareness of the options and the reality nowadays of what employers
require and indeed what each offer our young people. This is
probably a direct result of the changing higher education landscape
over the last generation.
In the early 60s only 4% of school leavers went to University.
This had risen to 14% by the end of the 70s, and now sits around
40%. The number of academic institutions and courses have
also increased. The top five most popular subject areas for
students in 2015-16 were: Business and Administrative Studies;
Subjects allied to Medicine; Biological Sciences; Social Studies;
and Creative Arts and Design. By contrast the largest areas of
growth and demand by employers in Edinburgh, Midlothian and East
Lothian 2017-27, and therefore the opportunities, have been
identified as: Tourism, Hospitality, Distribution and Retail
(89,600 jobs); Financial Business and Administration Services
(32,900); Health and Social Care (27,400); and Education
Interestingly this increase in the number of young people
attending university has not been matched by a similar increase to
the number of jobs requiring a university qualification.
Nowadays 52% of graduates in Scotland are in jobs that don't
require qualifications from Higher Education or Further Education
establishments and 28% of university leavers move into
non-professional roles. 10% of these are in sales and customer
service, which is unsurprising given the areas of opportunity
Given the popularity of Business and Administration as an area
of study it is the earning potential of the alternative routes
available to young people which may be more unexpected.
Graduates may find that even if they work in an associated role it
may not be one that requires a degree. Typically 34% of
Business and Administration graduates will be in this
situation. The average salary for a professional role in this
area for a graduate is currently £18,000. This compares with the
salary a school leaver would typically receive from the Scottish
Government for a Business Administration Modern Apprenticeship,
which is £18,392 a full 4 years before a graduate would start to
The barrier to this opportunity, we believe, is generational and
is based on what apprenticeships mean to those whose children are
currently making career choices. Modern Apprenticeships and
Graduate Apprenticeships now provide economically interesting
options to reach the same earning and qualification
potential. An additional benefit is that this earning is at a
time when those who choose the university route are typically
accruing debt. We need to remember that whilst university
fees in Scotland are set at zero it does not equate to a zero cost
option, unless the child lives at home. The earning and learning
option of an apprenticeship is an attractive alternative when the
cost for rent in our major Scottish cities could easily amount to
£6,000 per year before living costs.
On speaking to businesses they are clear that first and foremost
they need to recruit young people with attitudes and attributes
such as resilience, enthusiasm and creativity. They are not
selecting simply on the basis of academic ability. These soft
skills, it could be argued, are gained in the workplace or through
vocational learning more quickly.
With this in mind, no matter what the results have been, young
people have never had as many opportunities to find a route that
works for them. It may be university, college, an apprenticeship or
a working gap year exploring opportunities. Each can create
an important first step for the career they are about to embark
For parents who wish to see the variety of options available