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University vs. Apprenticeships in the UK: The Debate


Zeeshan Ahmed
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As you reach the end of your GCSE or A-Level education, a vital choice lies before you. Should you continue your education and work towards a degree and the shot at a university that it promises? Or should you start gaining the skills you need in an apprenticeship that could set you up in a career for years to come?

In an age dominated by debates, this remains one of the key points of contention for families and students across the country. It is a decision in which the stakes are high and the results can be life-altering. You want to make sure that the path you choose today sets you up for the kind of tomorrow that you want to have.

That’s a lot of pressure so to help you in that choice, let’s examine the question of a degree vs. an apprenticeship in greater detail.

Degree Overview

With a degree, you’ll be able to pursue further studies at university. While there are shifting attitudes in the degree vs. apprenticeship debate, degrees still remain favoured by much of the British public, especially in the academic world. This is due in no small part to the fact that a degree opens up a door for education and advancement in any number of fields relating to higher education.

On the whole, degrees allow you to cast a wider net in terms of possible employment. Doctors, solicitors, teachers, scientists, investment bankers -- all these positions require a degree to even begin the university track towards them.

The structure of a degree path requires pursuing a post-GCSE qualification, going through the application and clearance process via UCAS, and then embarking upon a three to four-year degree in the field of your choice. Career positions such as doctors, dentists or solicitors will require graduate and post-graduate education that may take several years, depending on the nature of the field and degree in question.

Apprenticeship Overview

While university means more study, an apprenticeship means immediate work. At minimum, you can expect an apprenticeship to last 12 months, though many last longer. During that period, you can expect to work at least 30 hours per week in the position in which you are apprenticing, “learning while earning.” This time includes time spent in training sessions away from your place of work. If you work fewer than 30 hours per week in your position, your apprenticeship will need to be extended in order to compensate.

At least 20% of your apprenticeship’s hours must be spent in off-the-job training. If the apprentice does not already have Level 2 English and Maths or Functional Skills, the apprenticeship must offer training so that these levels can be achieved. While an apprentice does not need to meet these levels for the apprenticeship to be successful, they must be obtained in order to complete a Level 3 apprenticeship.

Before you begin your apprenticeship, you will need to sign an Apprenticeship Agreement. This will lay out the details of your internship, including:

  • How long the apprenticeship is to last
  • What training is to be provided
  • The working conditions
  • The pay
  • The qualifications toward which you will be working

Your Apprenticeship Agreement must also contain clarify the framework of the apprenticeship as well as what skill, occupation, or vocation you are working in or working to achieve. This is essential for a valid completion certificate to be issued.

Your employer as well as any training organisation involved must also sign a statement committing to the apprenticeship. This statement must include the content of the internship, the schedule, what all parties can expect from one another, and how queries or disputes are to be resolved.

At the end of your apprenticeship, you should take an end-point assessment in order to confirm that the minimum standard of your program has been met.

How does it really work?

Level 2 Apprenticeships

These are the equivelant to 5 GCSEs from grades 9-4.

Level 3 Apprenticeships

These are the equivalent to a NVQ Level 3 or two A-Level passes.

Level 4 Apprenticeships

These are the equivalent to a HNC, CertHE, Level 4 NVQ, BTEC or first year of university

Level 5 Apprenticeships

These are the equivalent to a DipHE, HND, Level 5 NVQ, Level 5 BTEC, foundation degree or second year of University.

Level 6 Apprenticeships

These are the equivalent to a BA or BSc Degree, Graduate certificate, Level 6 NVQ or BTEC.

Level 7 Apprenticeships

These are the equivalent to a MEng, MA, or MSc Degree, Level 7 NVQ, PGCSE or Postgraduate certificate.

The Different Routes

Here are a few timelines we have created so that you understand the difference between apprenticeship routes and traditional study routes. Take these with a pinch of salt, these are very simplified timelines, we will release a more in depth look of each apprenticeship in the near future.

Route 1

Route 2

Route 3

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is degree-vs-apprenticeship-ROUTE-3-2-1024x324.jpg

Route 4.......

2 Replies
ayaan
ITC A2 Maths, A2 Chemistry, A2 Biology
(@ayaan)
Joined: 3 years ago

Estimable Member
Posts: 175

@zeeshan

Personally, I feel as if apprenticeships have become such an attractive option as they are available in a range of respectable fields ; you can earn a modest starting wage and you are debt free unlike your university counterpart. Another reason why apprenticeships has become a more serious option in my eyes, is that companies no longer require a university degree for their employees so you no longer feel at a disadvantage to others. For example I recently attended a workshop for Penguin Random House in which they announced that to claim a job there you don't need a degree. Sadly, I can't capitalize on this opportunity as i am more academically rounded towards a career in Dentistry. However, if I was free from grade restrictions and family pressure I would go for an apprenticeship related to computer science. 

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Zeeshan Ahmed
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(@zeeshan)
Joined: 3 years ago

Prominent Member
Posts: 767

You're spot on. By the time your friends (who took the university route) have graduated, you may be earning £35,000 +, depending on the company you did your apprenticeship at. But, like you say, career paths like Dentistry will not be available (yet!) for someone who decided to take the apprenticeship route.

One thing that people should take a note of is that technology apprenticeships are aggressively on the rise. A lot of students who study computer science at University complain about how they could learn the large majority (or have learnt) at home. In fact, many students convert their degree after their first year into something like Mathematics, so that they can be challenged more.

By doing a tech apprenticeship, you are placing yourself at the fore-front of the competition by gaining real experience in the industry. Coding is something you get better at by doing, not only studying. Funnily enough, the same could be said about most industries! Hopefully and increasing number of students begin to realise that there are less-expensive, quicker and better ways of getting a secure job, and not just the conventional University route.

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