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Vocational students are quids in

Accounting technicians will be pound;70,000 better off than their university educated peers at 21

AS A-LEVEL students celebrate their success this week, it seems those with less interest in academia will have more reasons to be cheerful when they consider their financial future.

New figures suggest that accountancy brings richer rewards for those who shun the university path in favour of learning on the job.

The Association of Accounting Technicians, true to form, has been at the spreadsheets to do a cost-benefit analysis of the vocational versus the academic route.

It seems that those who go straight into training as accounting technicians will find they are pound;70,000 better off by the time they reach 21, compared with what would have happened if they'd stuck to A-levels and gone to university at 18.

As the AAT releases the figures this week, Iain Mackinnon, chair of Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College, also makes the case in this issue for an English "VQ day" to celebrate vocational qualifications, as happens in Wales.

Unlike their A-level and GCSE counterparts, different vocational awarding bodies announce results at different times of year, but Mr Mackinnon says a day should be chosen when the year's achievements could be recognised in a blaze of publicity similar to that enjoyed by A-levels. The AAT's figures are based on what can be earned as a trainee accounting technician, starting at 18, and the avoidance of higher education student debt which is estimated by the National Union of Students to be up to pound;30,000 for the average graduate.

This makes the vocational trainee pound;70,000 better off at 21, when they would have just been leaving university, saddled with debt and having earned little more than beer money, if anything at all.

Even under more conservative estimates of the level of student debt, vocational accountancy trainees would still be more than pound;50,000 better off over the three-year period.

The AAT says the figures prove that earning while you work whether the tuition is provided in-house, by a private training firm or a college can reap financial rewards.

Having qualified as accounting technicians, they can progress to become chartered accountants with further study. According to the AAT, there is no evidence that non-graduates are subject to a "glass ceiling" later in their careers.

With accountancy skills under their belts, many progress into the wider commercial world as business people.

Jane Scott Paul, chief executive of the AAT, said: "The vast majority of our school leaver students progress to become chartered at the same pace, or even quicker than graduates, so it seems alarming that there is still such inherent snobbery towards vocational training.

"A student's ability to climb the business ladder and earn is largely down to the individual and rising stars will be rising stars."

Karen Sands, whose career included becoming the world's youngest chartered accountant at the age of 20, says she has no regrets about going down the vocational path. She started her training at 16.

She said vocational training had suited her because she wanted to avoid student debt and was keen to get into her chosen profession as early as possible.

She trained as an accounting technician with a private training firm before going on to become a chartered accountant. She now teaches other chartered accountants who have returned to the classroom to update their knowledge.

She said: "I just wanted to get going. I didn't want to go to university and go raving when I knew I could still go raving when I had a job and was earning money."

VQ day, page 22

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