Poll: Parents value vocational qualifications over HE

A third of university graduates say they wish they had taken a vocational course instead

Julia Belgutay

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Almost half of parents would prefer their child to get a vocational qualification after school – more that would like to see them attend university or start work.

Polling for the Social Market Foundation and the Further Education Trust for Leadership found 48 per cent would prefer a vocational qualification for their child instead of them attending university (preferred by 37 per cent) or starting work (8 per cent).

Among people in the most affluent three socioeconomic groups, 43 per cent of people would prefer their child to get a vocational qualification, while 45 per cent said they would rather their children went to university, the polling, by Opinium, found, while only 55 per cent of people with a degree said they would opt for university if they had the chance to choose again.


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A third of graduates said they wished they had taken a vocational course instead. Meanwhile, 61 per cent of people with vocational qualifications would take the same route again, and only just over a quarter wish they had gone to university instead. 

According to the SMF, the results suggest politicians who have cut further education budgets and talk much more about higher education than about vocational routes are out of step with the public – with recent SMF research showing that some national newspapers are five times as likely to write about HE than FE, and records show MPs and peers speak about HE more than FE in Parliament.

Today’s research shows half of voters believe politicians should give equal priority to the FE and HE systems, while 31 per cent say vocational education should be given priority over university education, and just 9 per cent said HE should come before FE.

Meanwhile, Institute for Fiscal Studies data shows £9,399 is spent per student in higher education in England, a 9 per cent increase in real terms over the past decade, while FE students typically receive a third less and that amount has fallen over the same period.

Aveek Bhattacharya, chief economist at the Social Market Foundation, said: “Some people in politics and the national media assume that their voters and audiences are more interested in universities than in further education and vocational learning. This polling shows such assumptions are out of touch with the public, who see great value in further and technical education.

“It is therefore in the interest of all political parties, as well as the country’s economic interest, to recognise the strength of public support for vocational qualifications by increasing investment in further education.”

Dame Ruth Silver, president of the Further Education Trust for Leadership, said: “It is very heartening to see this polling showing how strongly the public values vocational qualifications. Those of us in FE and skills have long been aware of this value, and we are delighted to see the growing appetite to learn and earn. The SMF’s essay makes clear what our learners have long told us, and the context has never needed us to heed its findings more. The need for more support for FE is clear enough, yet public opinion is even clearer, and rightly so.” 

'Overlooked by Whitehall'

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “I’m delighted to see this report which makes clear that further education is no longer seen as a route for other people’s children. We have long known that there is as much value in studying a vocational or technical qualification as there is an academic one but for too long, further education and all the transformational work that happens in colleges has been overlooked by Whitehall and the media, in favour of the 50 per cent of students that go to university every year.

“This opinion polling shows that political parties need to take more seriously their investment and relationships with colleges and the training and skills system; I only hope they start to do that soon because the central role of colleges in building back fairer needs to be properly funded.”

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “As we rebuild from the pandemic, we’ve put reforming further education at the heart of our plans to build back better, and as education secretary I have championed the often forgotten 50 per cent of young people who don’t go to university.

“This poll shows the value the public see in the excellent opportunities vocational and technical qualifications can lead to. Our Skills for Jobs White Paper sets out our vision to transform the sector and expand opportunity right across the country, so that more people can get the skills they need to get good jobs.”

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Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay is head of FE at Tes

Find me on Twitter @JBelgutay

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