Students receiving exam results may switch to apprenticeships amid cost concerns

The opportunity for youngsters to earn while they learn may become more attractive this year, the admissions chief said.

Students who miss out on their first choice university place this summer could switch to apprenticeships amid cost-of-living pressures, the head of the university admissions service has said.

Clare Marchant, chief executive of Ucas, told the PA news agency that the opportunity for youngsters to earn while they learn through an apprenticeship could become more attractive than in previous years.

Hundreds of thousands of students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will receive their A-level results this week.

Last week, the Sutton Trust raised concerns that rising costs are limiting young people’s educational choices after a study found that a fifth plan to live at home during term time if they get into their preferred university.

Asked whether cost-of-living concerns could lead to more people choosing an apprenticeship rather than a traditional degree, Ms Marchant told PA: “I think it’s definitely more acute.

“The cohort that have come to Ucas – who want to apply for an undergraduate course – it is not something that’s deterring them from that.

“The question is, when the chips are down come August 17 [A-level results day], do we see a cohort then switch to apprenticeships if they don’t get their first choice? Potentially.

“The earn while you learn versus going to university might seem an even more attractive option than it has in the past.”

Ucas has seen interest in apprenticeships increase “year on year” through its Career Finder website, which allows people to search for apprenticeship opportunities, Ms Marchant said.

If students fail to secure a university place on A-level results day, the higher education admissions service will signpost them to Career Finder as well as to clearing, which matches applicants to university places yet to be filled.

Ms Marchant told PA: “There’ll be a number of different things they’ll be signposted to in terms of what their next step might be.

“If you look at the apprenticeships options, pretty much every big national employer has got apprenticeships up there. You know, from Coca-Cola to Virgin to Deloitte to BA to Jaguar Land Rover, they’re all there. Of course they’re highly competitive as well.

“We talk to lots and lots of employers who see the summer as a time that they can get some real talent.”

From this autumn, school leavers will be able to explore apprenticeship opportunities alongside undergraduate courses through the Ucas website.

Prospective students will be able to apply for apprenticeships through Ucas alongside an undergraduate degree application from autumn 2024.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “Apprenticeships remain a good option for many young people. It’s certainly possible that a growing number of school and college leavers will choose to study them this year and this would underscore the need to rapidly scale up the number of high-quality apprenticeships available.

“Schools and colleges will be doing all they can to help students get their chosen university place. Staff will of course be on hand to advise on next steps as necessary, including clearing as well as other opportunities that may be available.

“Above all, young people need to be given the support to choose the right path for them and their decision should not have to be dictated by cost pressures.”

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