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Middle-class students ditching degrees for apprenticeships, says PwC boss – The Telegraph - 31.12.22

Updated: Jan 3

Young people are increasingly looking for better value for money, while seeking to avoid starting their working lives heavily in debt. By Louisa Clarence-Smith, Education editor.

Middle-class teenagers are ditching degrees for apprenticeships because they want better value for money, the head of one of the UK’s biggest graduate employers has said.

Kevin Ellis, chairman of PwC, said it was a trend “we’ve been seeing for a while” and he expects school leavers who don’t have financial support from parents to increasingly shun university degrees amid the cost of living crisis.

The firm is responding by changing its recruitment process. It hires around 2,000 graduates and apprentices every year, of which around a third are school leavers joining its apprenticeship programmes. However, Mr Ellis expects that proportion “will grow”.

Mr Ellis told The Telegraph: “Everyone who has gone to university at the moment, has gone to university in a previous world, pre-cost-of-living crisis.”

He added: “More sixth formers and potential graduates’ families will be worried about yet more debt, at higher interest rates, coming into their domestic house, by their children going off to get those skills and training that as an economy we're going to need….We haven’t seen it yet, but it’s coming.”

Turning down a place at Cambridge

Ed Elliott, headteacher at The Perse School, an independent school in Cambridge, said a pupil at the school in 2021 turned down a place at Cambridge University to do a degree apprenticeship at the Dyson Institute.

He said he thinks apprenticeships are going to be a “big growth area” for his pupils because of concerns over the value for money of degrees.

He said: “People are starting to say, well hold on, going to university is really expensive. I’ve got to start my adult postgraduate life with between £40,000 and £60,000 worth of debt. What are the long-term consequences of that in terms of when I can afford my first house? When might I be able to retire?

He added: “I think when you’ve got a cost of living crisis, people really start to ask questions about what value do I get from a university education relative to the cost of it? “And I think that is making people now look very long and hard at degree apprenticeships.”

Degree apprenticeships, offered by top companies such as Rolls-Royce, PwC and Accenture, allow school leavers to study at university without paying tuition fees while they also gain work experience. They are usually guaranteed a job after they qualify.

Apprenticeships are competitive

Opportunities are still limited compared to university degrees, making some degree apprenticeships more competitive than courses at the UK’s most prestigious universities. There were 43,000 degree apprenticeship starts in 2021, compared to almost 500,000 UK students starting at university.

Degree apprenticeships have become the domain of the middle classes, according to a report by the Sutton Trust.

It found that the proportion of degree apprentices from low-income backgrounds, at 5 per cent, is lower than for undergraduates, at 6.7 per cent.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “Higher and degree apprenticeships offer young people a chance to earn while they learn, gain the workplace skills that employers value, and emerge with no debt. They represent a potentially massive boost for opportunity and earning potential.

“Yet in too many cases we see apprenticeships fail to reach the most disadvantaged youngsters – the exact group that would most benefit from them.”

Creating a fairer society

Mr Ellis said introducing more alternative recruitment routes to universities will be important for social mobility and addressing the skills challenge.

He warned that if PwC “just assumed no one’s going to do anything different, you could have a skills shortage, because people stop going to university”, and “it will become effectively a less fair society because those that have can afford the education and those that haven’t can't.”

The firm has said that increasing the proportion of its workforce from lower socio-economic backgrounds is a priority.

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Middle-class students ditching degrees for apprenticeships, says PwC boss – The Telegraph
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P.S. This article is very interesting for me as I became an articled clerk in Price Waterhouse in 1959 when the intake was just twelve of us with two being graduates and that did not include me! However, those who know me will know that I had a successful career as finance director of more than one FTSE 100 company.

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