University or apprenticeship?

A degree of difference

University or apprenticeship, that is the question. Perhaps, something else? You’re 17 or 18 years old and you’re expected to know what to do with the rest of your life. You have a lot of choices, perhaps too many – but perhaps you ought to think of all your options. That’s how simple deciding your future is presented to be. But we all know that’s far from the truth.

So much pressure is mounted onto students by teachers (64%) and parents (41%) to go to university (Open Access Government, 2019). And what’s worse, an overwhelming number of students even feel like “failures” if they don’t attend university (Hall, 2020).

64% of teachers and 41% of parents encourage students to go to university

Open Access Government, 2019

University or apprenticeship? Parents prefer university

With so much pressure to go to university, alternatives such as apprenticeships are often written off by parents. A study commissioned by IBM found almost 4 in 10 of 1000 parents surveyed would not be fully supportive if their child chose an apprenticeship instead of a university (Taylor,2020).

Why is it that parents are not as supportive of an apprenticeship? Well, a lack of information and a deep-rooted stigma are to blame. Parents themselves are unaware of the different types of apprenticeships on the table, such as 57% of parents not knowing about degree apprenticeships (Taylor, 2020).

Unsurprisingly, over 25% of parents believe a degree will result in a higher salary (Taylor,2020). And this is not the case at all. Take Manchester Metropolitan University. Their Digital and Technology Solutions degree apprenticeship programme’s first cohort of graduates are now earning an average annual salary of £39,000 just one year after graduating (ManchesterMetropolitan University, 2021). This is £18,000 higher than the average UK computing graduate. It’s £2,000 higher than graduates from the top five computing courses in theUK (Manchester Metropolitan University, 2021).

Digital and technology apprenticeship graduates earn £18,000 more than average graduates in that speciality.

Manchester Metropolitan University, 2021

Even, the number of under-16s who feel attending university is important has declined in recent years (Adams, 2019). An astonishing 65% of 698 graduates regretted attending university, stating reasons such as not gaining an extra edge by completing a degree compared to their peers (Hall, 2020).

Students who start their course in 2021/22 are expected to be £45,800 when they complete their course. 

Student loans, House of Commons

The rise of the apprentice

With the pandemic changing the labour market, 70% of the businesses surveyed by the 5% Club and Open University believed apprenticeships will play an integral role in their recovery from the pandemic (Dobbs, 2021). Likewise, 50% of the businesses that currently did not hire apprentices, planned to do so now (Dobbs, 2021).

It seems the pendulum is swinging in favour of apprenticeships. But apprenticeships have major hurdles to tackle. While the option is becoming more and more popular, many students are still reluctant to pursue apprenticeships due to the stigma attached (City & Guilds Group, 2020).

To overcome this stigma, schools need to promote the benefits of apprenticeships just as much as they promote the university to students and parents. So, will apprenticeships be the way forward for students? Only time will tell.


Adams, R. (15 August 2019) Young people more sceptical of need to go to university, poll finds. The Guardian.

City & Guilds Group. (2020) Stamp out the stigma around apprenticeship

Dobbs, J. (2021) Degree apprenticeships FAQs

Hall, A. (6 February 2020) Nearly half of sixth form students feel ‘pressure’ to go to university, poll claims. The Independent

Manchester Metropolitan University. (2021) ManchesterMet tech apprentices earning £18,000more than graduate averages for sector, analysis shows

Open Access Government. (2019) Students felt pressured to go to university by schoolteachers

Taylor, J. (2020) Apprenticeships – helping secure the workforce of the future

2020). To overcome this stigma, schools need to promote the benefits of apprenticeships justas much as they promote university to students andparents.

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