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A Level results - don't miss out on the right option

12 August 2015

It’s that time of the year again, A Level results day! A time for despair, joy and lots of celebration. This year there’s likely to be more celebration than ever as universities and colleges can recruit without a cap on their student numbers. Don’t be fooled by some media reports that it is only in England that this type of results day achieves national exposure. Around nine million Chinese students experience something similar with the National Higher Education (HE) Entrance Exam or Gaokao results – and as part of the eligibility requirements they have to abide by the Constitution and laws of the People's Republic of China! I will be providing my usual advice service via the BBC this year. And before I continue – good luck to all those who have applied to university and those who will apply late through clearing or direct entry. Here’s a few top tips for the day and remember to use the UCAS website which explains all the possible ways through the clearing system. I have always thought of UCAS and clearing as a peculiarly English institution – a bit like not having a written constitution: a monopoly membership body with limited sanctions; no set eligibility threshold for entry to HE and a kind of late frenzy often down to telephone negotiation. Weirdly, it seems to work, and to the credit of successive governments we continue to reduce differences in social class participation rates. But of course it is still the case that only a minority of young people progress to HE. It’s as low as 30% for young men, dependent on how you calculate the figures. There is now a cross-party consensus that the peculiarities of our HE system – expensive, residential, mainly full-time, a preponderance of academic courses – is possibly a bit anachronistic for the 21st century. There is a real need to develop a professional and technical education stream that meets the needs of more students and a changing labour market. Actually, these alternatives already exist but tend to get less media exposure: Higher and degree apprenticeships; Higher National Certificates and Diplomas; Foundation degrees; and Professional certificates and diplomas. It is worth investigating these education and career pathways and local college web sites, Notgoingtouni and Moving On are good starting points. In fact entrance to many professional careers don’t require an honours degree, for example accountancy, journalism and the IT sector, to name three very large employment sectors. Graduates maybe more likely to be in work and to secure higher paid work than non-graduates but there are pockets of graduate unemployment and as many as 40% of graduates are in non-graduate occupations five years after graduation. Those that take the non-full time degree route, such as apprenticeships, work and off-the-job training will not have a £50,000 debt and have foregone three years of earnings. So, whatever happens on Thursday, don’t rush into enrolling on a degree course just because it’s what all your mates are doing and you can’t think of any alternatives. They exist and in the short and long-term might actually be more beneficial financially and career-wise. Good Luck! Nick Davy is the HE Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges.