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July Conference: a tale of two children?

The Workers Party is holding a Day Conference on 1st July to discuss how to rebuild British industry. The Conference is for Members Only and invited guests. In the run up to Conference we are publishing a number of pieces submitted for the purposes of stimulating discussion around the theme of reviving British industry, the challenges of AI and automation and the role of vocational education.

This piece has been submitted by Nina.

University or a vocational education?

For me, this is a tale of two children. My daughter is currently in her first year of a Fine Art Painting BA at the University of the Arts London, following in my footsteps. She will be in debt by around £60,000 when she leaves, with starting salaries in the creative arts industries beginning at £24,000 per annum. Even with this debt hanging around her neck, she has to rely on help from me, as well as work four evenings a week to survive in London, renting a room that she shares with another Chinese student. When I asked her why she wanted to take on this massive burden with little career prospects in her chosen study path she replied, “because everyone should have the privilege to follow their passion and to educate themselves for as long as possible, it shouldn’t just be a perk for the super-rich”.

My son is just finishing his GCSE exams. He would like to go straight to work as an apprentice carpenter and joiner. He doesn’t see the point in reading endless Shakespeare texts and learning how to balance equations, he wants a job that will help him get driving lessons and a car, and a nice wardrobe of clothes after 11 years of wearing a school uniform. Unfortunately for him, apprenticeships for his chosen career path are few and far between, meaning that his applications face fierce competition. As a teacher, I see more students choosing degree apprenticeships post-A level, as the merits of learning on the job are more favoured than getting into debt just to be well-read. Neither of my children, nor my students who are pursuing degree apprenticeships should be at more of an advantage than the other. The gap between poor and rich students going to university has reached record levels. A well-developed nation should allow students a good range of post-16 and 18 choices, including the choice to continue education to PHD level if desired, regardless of their class background, without the burden of a large debt at the end of it.  

However, there are clear benefits to working class students choosing a vocational education over university. The world of work is changing rapidly, and three years learning theoretical knowledge of one’s career means you could be behind before you have even started in your chosen profession. Vocational training also gives you the skills and experience you need to start working straight away. With the absence of student loan and cost of living debts, vocational jobs offer careers with high starting salaries, with plumbers earning up to £60k a year, for example. Britain is facing a shortage of workers in the construction industry, compounded by the rise of materials costs leading to a spike in insolvencies, and a lack of cheap labour coming in from the EU post-Brexit. More students on vocational courses could fill this gap, the problem is, where are they going to find the placements that will train them up for the jobs that will need doing to rebuild Britain’s infrastructure.

One thought on “July Conference: a tale of two children?

  1. Yes Nina, finding apprenticeship places and more generally getting more employer engagement is one of the key problems vocational education in England faces.

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