Degrees for the rich, apprenticeships for the poor – that’s not a world of parity

Somewhere, right now, a 17-year-old is afraid to tell her family she wants to go to university. At £9,000-plus a year it feels like a luxury, a thing for other people. Even though she achieved the highest results in her school, and has spent her whole life wanting to be an engineer, she knows her parents are terrified of university debt and that attending the best institutions, in far-flung cities, would mean moving away. The Guardian reports.

Last week, Hinds made another speech, this time saying we need to get over our snobbery towards vocational education. To this end, the government is changing school performance data so that it rolls together the measure for the numbers of children who go on to do a degree, with the measure for those who do an apprenticeship. “The message here is not don’t do a degree – the message is simply: you don’t have to do a degree.”

Oh well, thinks the 17-year-old, studying engineering at Durham was a nice thought but it will be cheaper to do an apprenticeship with the local factory. She’s right, too. The route will indeed be cheaper, it may lead to a good job, and there’s no reason to feel any less esteem for taking the factory path.

And yet. Across town there’s another 17-year-old, with wealthy parents, studying in a private school that pumps children into top universities, with a sense that his future shouldn’t depend on a single employer because one day he intends to be the employer. Let’s be serious: this kid won’t be taking the apprenticeship route – and Hinds knows it.

Conveniently, however, both choices will now look the same in school performance statistics, meaning Hinds can take credit for “more young people than ever before going into higher education”, even if the number of university places drops in the near future (a real possibility). The new measure will mask the inequalities among those taking up the different routes.

A world in which rich kids do degrees and poor kids do apprenticeships is not a world of parity. It makes for lower debt, better employment rates, reduces the need for immigrants, and gives the education secretary a warm and fuzzy feeling. But equality, it ain’t.

Apprenticeships can be the right route for young people. So can going to university. But let’s not pretend everyone’s children will be equally pushed down these routes or that the wealthy will be the ones to give up their aspirations.

Read the full article Degrees for the rich, apprenticeships for the poor – that’s not a world of parity

Will apprenticeships ever loose their ‘best alternative for the poor’ status? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~Tamsin

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