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Why the CBI's push for an extra year of education is not a bad thing


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The Confederation of British Industry wants all young adults who choose not to attend university to be entitled to an extra year of free education.

Currently if you live in England and you’re between 16 and 19 years old when you start a course of further education, you can get funding from the government.

If you're over the age of 19 either your parents pay, or you take out a government-backed loan to pay for your tuition and examination fees. The average cost for a three-year course is over £6,000.

The intervention by the CBI comes amid growing pressure to achieve a better balance of funding between the almost half of 18 year olds in England who go to university and those who do not. The idea is to allow students to take course at a college or a foundation year at a university, leading to a qualification above A-level, but below a degree.

Currently one in three 18 year olds  attend university, with 60% studying A-levels. But what of the 40% not suited to academia? Those who would far rather be spending their time learning a skill or a trade or completing technical qualifications that would directly prepare young adults for the world of work.

Image Credit: StockSnap // Pixabay

These young people are often from the most disadvantaged backgrounds and are left to find low-skilled, low-paid work and insecure jobs. They will not have the same career opportunities as their university educated peers. These are the students  that will more than likely not have the financial support at home to fund the extra years at an FE college.  Two in five 18-25 year olds are already over £3,000 in debt.

The UK is suffering from a skills shortage. Research suggests that six out of ten small or medium size businesses say that finding employees with the right skills is their biggest concern, with 51% finding it more difficult than five years ago. Employers say that it is colleges who are best placed to skill the future workforce.

The greatest gains in reducing inequality and increasing productivity will come from focussed and concentrated effort on the young people who choose not to attend university. Further Education colleges have long been regarded as the poor cousin of the more prestigious universities, and have been the biggest losers in government funding cuts with spending per student falling by 8% in real terms since 2010-11. In 1990-91, spending per learner in FE was 50% higher  than spending per student in secondary schools; now it is 8% lower.

FE colleges offer training in vocational subjects related to a broad subject area, such as business or health and social care, as well as apprenticeships. The colleges also offer vocational higher education level courses, such as foundation degrees, Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) and Higher National Certificates (HNCs) – training that will equip young people with skills relevant to the modern world of employment.

Currently young learners are not receiving the crucial financial backup they need to get to their place of learning and thrive within it. We need to be supporting those who rely on further education institutions, not shutting them out. If the government really wants to ensure that everyone can access the skills they need to get on in life, it must urgently invest in further education institutions and their staff.

Education is not a one size fits all approach and herding everyone into university is not the solution. Increasing entitlement to free education to the age of 19 will allow many to gain the technical skills that will help set them on a path to worthwhile and meaningful employment in our 21st Century world.

 Lead Image Credit :  StockSnap // Pixabay

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