In a radical shake-up, skills minister Matthew Hancock outlined a scheme of ‘professional’ apprenticeships to allow youngsters to go straight from A-Levels into City careers.
He said a university education ‘is not for everyone’, but all youngsters should have the chance to aim for ‘valuable jobs’ in areas such as a law, financial services and engineering.
High quality apprenticeships, he said, would be seen as equal to a bachelor’s degree, instead of making an ‘artificial and counterproductive’ distinction between academic study and employment.
It comes as the number of students entering university fell by 57,000 this year – nearly 9 per cent – many put off by fees of up to £60,000.
Mr Hancock wrote in the Daily Telegraph: ‘We are offering apprenticeships instead of university as a route into the professions, including insurance, accounting and the law.
‘University is not for everyone. There is no reason why you can’t reach exactly the same qualifications without the degree, starting on-the-job training in an apprenticeship from day one.’
The minister said he is in talks with the BPP Law School in London over an apprenticeship scheme which could help school leavers qualify as solicitors.
And he added that professional services company PricewaterhouseCoopers is developing a master’s level qualification in auditing or tax accountancy. He said other firms would be encouraged to follow suit.
Mr Hancock said apprenticeships were already helping to tackle a skills shortage in crucial sectors such as engineering and plumbing and helping Britain compete on the global stage.
Opportunities: Mr Hancock said a university education 'is not for everyone' but that all youngsters should have the chance to aim for 'valuable jobs' in areas such as a law, financial services and engineering
Apprenticeships have been championed by the Prime Minister who announced last year the Government would train students ‘to gain the skills they need for the jobs of the future’.
Last year it was announced an extra 100,000 apprenticeships would be created by 2014 to encourage companies to take on young workers.
However critics warned the Government should ensure fair access to university for youngsters of limited means, instead of encouraging them to choose a cheaper option.
Rob Wilson, an MP on the Fair Access to University Group, said students should not forget ‘the excellent value universities bring in terms of additional career earnings and the more rounded education’.