Apprentices with the highest qualifications can earn £50,000 more than a university graduate over the course of their lifetime, new research claims.
Those apprentices who train up to a level five qualification stand to take home almost £1.5m in the course of their career on average, beating the typical person with an undergraduate degree from a non-Russell Group institution.
Figures compiled by the Boston Consulting Group and analysed by think tank the Sutton Trust suggest that a major discrepancy exists once you factor in the cost of going to university and student debt levels against the fact apprentices can earn while they learn.
The think tank says its analysis shows how vital it is for the UK to adapt "if apprenticeships are to fulfil their potential as a vehicle for social mobility".
In the current system, 60 per cent of apprenticeships are set only at GCSE standard (level two), which does not offer young people enough opportunity to develop their skills, Sutton Trust said.
A ComRes poll suggests that apprenticeships are still not considered equal to degrees - in fact, 80 per cent of the young people surveyed said they thought a university education would be better for their long-term career prospects.
Previous Sutton Trust polling found that 65 per cent of secondary school teachers would rarely or never advise a student to take an apprenticeship if they had the grades for university, while the Commission on Apprenticeships estimates that just a third of parents think an apprenticeship would be the best option for their son or daughter.
The government is being urged to provide more higher-level apprenticeships, launch a wider awareness campaign and reform the qualification system.
Sutton Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl said: “Today’s report shows that the best apprenticeships offer similar financial security as an undergraduate degree.
"Although the government’s target for apprenticeships to 2020 is three million, we’ve only had 30,000 higher apprenticeships in the last two years. We need more good apprenticeships to offer genuine alternatives to A-levels and degrees. We also need to tackle the ingrained negative culture of apprenticeships that exists amongst teachers, parents and young people alike.”