Sometimes, politics can leave you feeling a bit jaded. But in the last few weeks I’ve visited both the Bucks UTC and Mandeville School. What I enjoyed most about both visits was the chance to chat, even if briefly, to students who had real pride in the institutions where they were studying and were eager to talk about their future plans. Some saw their future as going to university before starting a career. Interestingly, many of those young men and women were opting for courses with a vocational rather than a purely academic character. Others were not looking at university courses at all, but at an apprenticeship. Although I’ve always enjoyed academic study, and have met plenty of young people with a similar temperament, I’ve also met lots of young constituents who’ve come out of a three year degree course feeling they were sold a pup. These days, it’s a pretty expensive pup too. I sense that young people now, partly because of the financial implications, are thinking more carefully about what kind of post-school education or training would be right for them. This trend raises other questions. Do standard degree courses have to be for three years? How can institutions make more use of online learning? How do we ensure that apprenticeships on offer are of a consistently high standard? How do we encourage more smaller businesses to take on an apprentice? Can we persuade more big employers and professions to stop treating a degree as the essential entry qualification to even be considered for a job? I am convinced that a choice of different high quality options after school is the way forward, and that encouraging more young people to continue education and training is essential for national economic success as well as for personal achievement.
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