University boss says apprenticeships are often a better choice than a degree

The vice chancellor of one of the UK’s leading redbrick universities has called for “education that opens opportunity, not shuts it down”.

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Professor Sir Keith Burnett, vice-chancellor of the University of Sheffield, wrote a piece on the university’s website last week questioning whether university is really worth it for everyone, given the high levels of debt incurred by students, as well as the very real opportunities offered by apprenticeships.

Echoing the warnings issued last week (LINK) from the Sutton Trust which highlighted the real danger of fees and debt, Burnett hailed the importance of apprenticeships, but not as a one size fits all answer: “We need the right apprenticeships, set up with companies with real jobs for people with skills of the future. They must not be the cheap also-ran option.”

Burnett suggested that greater involvement from blue chip organisations like Microsoft, Rolls Royce and BBC would boost the standing of apprenticeships to middle class parents who may have previously dismissed them as a poor alternative to a university education. To view roles from companies such as the ones mentioned, check out our jobs page.

“We shouldn’t sell apprenticeships short,” he said. “Britain still has an unrivalled aerospace industry and, at the University of Sheffield, we work with Boeing and other industry manufacturers at our Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) to develop new machining techniques and advanced materials.”

Burnett highlighted Sheffield’s efforts to marry up vocational, technical and academic education at one institution by partnering with nieghbouring institutes, colleges and companies.

This approach has resulted in over 600 advanced apprentices sponsored by companies working in its research centre. However to achieve that, the Professor says university leaders have had to overcome objections.

“But to take more [apprentices] on, we have had to face down some significant objections, including from within our own ranks of academia,” Burnett said.

“The problem is those same university rankings used by many parents to tell if a university is ‘good’ or not. These measure university quality based on entry grades at A-level. They actively discourage social mobility and preserve the status quo in higher education.”

If you want more content on whether choose an apprenticeship or university, check our article Degree apprenticeship vs. University.

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