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August 14, 2014 5:45 pm
Ministers have released 30,000 extra university places for the 2014-15 entry, before ending controls on student numbers next year. As a result, university acceptances are expected to top half a million for the first time this year, according to Ucas, the university admissions service. Last year, 495,595 youngsters were offered places on undergraduate courses.
But some question whether ministers should be encouraging so many youngsters into degree courses, given the debt burden incurred with £9,000 in annual tuition fees, and a proliferation of higher-level apprenticeships designed to fill skills gaps. The cost of the policy to the exchequer, expected to be £2bn a year when it is fully operational, is also significant.
Greg Clark, higher education minister, defended the coalition’s drive to expand access to academic institutions, saying degree courses were still a good economic choice for those qualified to go:
“We know that overall on average it’s a good financial investment for them,” he said.
However, the CBI employers’ group has pointed out the increasing attractiveness of “earn while you learn” options, “which provide top-quality training and avoid tuition fees”.
Elizabeth Bonfield, policy adviser at Excellence, Achievement and Learning – which oversees qualifications for the engineering and building services sectors – also warned that young people were still being encouraged to pursue “low-value, often meaningless university degrees.
“Parents and educators were still leading huge numbers of able young people down the wrong path towards unemployment or dead-end jobs,” Ms Bonfield said.
EAL has proposed a Ucas-style clearing service for apprenticeships and work placements, in an effort to encourage more school leavers down a vocational route.
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