Rate of young people getting degrees halves

A higher take-up of level 4 and 5 qualifications may act as a ladder to higher qualifications, Resolution Foundation finds

The number of young people getting degrees has gone up, but the pace of increase has slowed

Rapid increases in people’s qualifications and skill levels have stalled since the mid-2000s, analysis by the Resolution Foundation has found.

In its new Pick up the Pace report, the think tank highlights that the profile of Britain’s workforce has completely changed over the last 25 years.

As recently as 1996-98, the highest qualification level reached by most UK workers was GCSEs. Today, the highest qualification level reached is most commonly a degree.


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The report shows that the number of people with degrees has more than doubled from 17 per cent in 1996-98 to 40 per cent in 2016-18.

However, the pace of increases in the number of graduates has halved in recent years. Between 1997 and 2003 the number of young people with degrees increased 1.8 percentage points a year – but since 2004 this growth has halved to just 0.9 percentage points.

The Resolution Foundation said this slowdown means that Britain still has a long-tail of low-skilled workers, with one in eight young people not having GCSE 9-4 (A* to C equivalent) qualifications.

The report adds that Britain’s skills slowdown does not reflect a lack of demand from firms, as 220,000 skills-shortage vacancies were reported in 2017. The think tank says these problems prove that Britain is nowhere near the limits of growth in educational attainment, with demand particularly high for technical level 4 and 5 qualifications between school and degree stage.

'Brexit shake-up'

Kathleen Henehan, policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: “People’s qualifications and skill levels have increased substantially over the last 25 years. This has boosted our productivity and their pay and transformed Britain’s economy and society.

“But worryingly, this welcome progress has slowed considerably since the mid-2000s. As a result, Britain still has a shamefully long-tail of young people with only basic-level qualifications, while firms report skills shortages for higher level technical qualifications.

“With Brexit set to bring about a huge shake-up of our labour market, policymakers and firms should use it as a prompt for restarting progress on skills and educational attainment. This should involve massively increasing the provision and quality of technical and vocational education, and doing far more to upskill existing workers.”

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