Tuition fees: the unexpected bonus

3rd October 2014 at 01:00
Profile of apprenticeships never higher, government adviser says

University tuition fees are an ideological line in the sand, for many, and the SNP government has long vowed that they will never be introduced on its watch.

But the man charged by the government with transforming young Scots' work prospects has insisted that high tuition fees in England have had a positive effect - by making apprenticeships more appealing to school-leavers.

Oil and gas tycoon Sir Ian Wood said that "high-value apprenticeships" had taken off since English universities were allowed to set tuition fees of up to pound;9,000. "It's one of the interesting side effects of university education in England, now.youngsters have to pay for it, there's a whole range of apprenticeships coming up," said Sir Ian, chair of the Commission for Developing Scotland's Young Workforce, which published its findings in June.

Young people who decided not to go to university were instead obtaining apprenticeships at large legal and financial firms "And, actually, they're all better off," he said. "They're getting paid, they're spending some time at university, they're getting direct practical help in the legal firm, in the accounting firm, and they're going to finish up with better output."

He hoped the trend would raise the profile of the word "apprenticeship" to the level it enjoyed in countries such as Germany, where work-based training was more valued. "Apprenticeship across Europe is a highly respected, effective means of developing young people," he added.

Sir Ian told a Scottish Learning Festival audience in Glasgow that apprenticeships were lagging some way behind university places in schools' list of priorities. "In a number of schools, when we spoke about apprenticeships it was quite obvious that it just wasn't something that was on their agenda," he said.

"That doesn't mean to say, if a youngster said `I wanted an apprenticeship', they wouldn't help him, but it wasn't actually something proactively shared in schools."

Universities Scotland responded that higher education bosses were acutely aware of the importance of employability and real-world work experience. It highlighted Heriot-Watt University's "MA to MA" programme in partnership with multinational chemicals company Ineos, which trains students from a modern apprenticeship to master's degree level.

Universities Scotland director Alastair Sim said: "In Scotland, universities offer many different and innovative ways of learning, including associate student status with colleges, accelerated degrees and bespoke partnerships with business.

"Universities are highly focused on the employability of all of their students, whatever model of learning they choose; something which pays off when it comes to employment rates and starting salaries of graduates from Scottish universities."

Gordon Maloney, president of the National Union of Students Scotland, said that apprenticeships were "a hugely important route into training and work for countless people" but more needed to be done to ensure parity of esteem between academic degrees and vocational scholarships.

A Scottish government spokesman said it had made extensive efforts to increase availability and take-up of good-quality apprenticeships, adding that access to higher education should be based "on the ability to learn and not the ability to pay".

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