Another A-level results day has come and gone.
After even more disruption during the school year, a record number of school leavers achieved an A or A*, prompting fears there would be too many students who make their grades and not enough places at university. Many have argued the traditional focus on university is outdated. Are too many people going to university? Rob Walker of Cognizant and James Fisher of Qlik take on the debate.
Rob Walker, UK&I MD, Cognizant: NO
Despite the last challenges of the last year, there is a record number of students achieving A grades at A-Level and heading off to university, which is a highly valuable route to entering the labour market.
University is a well-trodden path for a reason, it enables young adults to find their own sense of independence and discover their interests by focussing on multiple topics, rather than following a constrained career path. This is essential for people to be a valuable addition to an economy which is rapidly changing.
The next generation of workers need to be entering the workforce with business acumen, which traditional university degrees do not provide. The fact they don’t currently, does not mean they can’t. As the world adapts, so too must universities. The education system needs to work closely with businesses to provide students the additional skills they need to grow in their future careers. There should be a renewed focus on encouraging the flexibility and curiosity needed to solve problems and think outside of the box.
University is not just about preparing people for the workforce, after all. It is not just about skills. It is about creating an environment that enables young people to be well-rounded academically and socially.
James Fisher, Chief Product Officer, Qlik: YES
Every A-level results day is accompanied by the usual cacophony of people showing off their professional success and reminding school leavers that academics and university are not the be all and end all. This is true. But it is not strictly that the number of students going to university is objectively too high. It is that we still do not put enough value on alternative routes, such as apprenticeships or internships. That’s why we aren’t seeing a shift away from the traditional trajectory from school to university.
Only 15 per cent of British 18-24 year olds felt fully prepared to use data when entering their current role, according to a report on data literacy. The skills taught at school and university leave them ill-equipped.
This is changing, with a focus from government ministers on education and training which gives people the opportunity to learn both in a way which is inspiring, but also better prepares them for the workforce. There is a growing understanding that education is education, even if it didn’t happen in the hallowed halls of a university.
Degrees are no longer the highest priority for employers when hiring talent. So we need to move on from the outdated mindset which still pushes young people into university over other routes to a successful career.