More school leavers are looking to go to university as they are worried about finding a job due to the pandemic, a survey suggests.
But the City & Guilds Group has warned young people that they could be left disappointed as university may not live up to their career and salary expectations as graduates are not always as desirable to employers.
The research comes ahead of A-level results day next week when tens of thousands of school leavers will find out their grades after this summer’s exams were cancelled for the second year in a row.
A survey, of 1,000 young people aged between 16 and 19 across the UK, suggests that nearly one in three (30%) say they have planned or plan to study an undergraduate degree after leaving school.
Among those opting for higher education, around one in seven (14%) said they would prefer to attend university as they are worried it will be difficult to find a job or apprenticeships because of the pandemic.
Among these, one in five say they want to stay in full-time education for longer than they had originally intended as a result of the pandemic.
The survey suggests that two in five (40%) of 17-19-year-olds in their final two years of school report that they have planned or plan to go to university.
This compares to 22% who plan to find a job and 13% who want to do apprenticeships, the poll found.
Among the students in Years 12-13 who want to go to university, more than two in five (44%) believe a degree is the best way to find a good job.
But data from City & Guilds Group’s Skills Index report suggests that employers are twice as likely to look to take on apprentices or trainees to fill skills gaps (36%) as opposed to graduates (18%).
Among UK 18-year-olds, the number of applications to higher education has increased by 12% and the number of offers is also up 10%.
Kirstie Donnelly, chief executive of City & Guilds, said: “For many young people, the idea of university being the golden ticket to a great career is ingrained from an early age.
“But as the jobs landscape continues to reel from the impact of Covid-19 and Brexit, it’s more important than ever before to understand that this isn’t the only option available to them.
“Especially as we know from our recent Skills Index report that employers are increasingly recognising the value of apprentices and other routes into the workplace that teach workplace skills.”
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “With all the uncertainty around, it is unsurprising that many more may look to remain in education, to further grow their skills and knowledge before heading into the job market.
He added: “It is very important for employers and universities to show confidence in this year’s results. They are a student’s passport to the next stage of education or employment, as they are in any other year.”
While school leavers are most likely to opt for university as a default next step, most do not consider it to be best value for money, or the best route to prepare for the workplace, the survey suggests.
Twice as many 17-19-year-olds think apprenticeships are better value for money (42%) compared to undergraduate degrees (21%).
Ms Donnelly added: “Ahead of results day, it’s important that young people understand the full range of options available to them and which types of jobs are likely to be available when they finish their studies.
“As part of this, we need to ensure that young people have access to robust and up-to-date careers advice that considers the genuine needs of the local labour market so they can make smarter choices about their career paths.”
But another survey by Ucas, of 630 school leavers, suggests that 78% of 17-19-year-olds who are getting their results, but who do not have plans to go to university this autumn, are interested in starting an apprenticeship.
Ucas’ apprenticeship platform CareerFinder, which helps students find degree and higher apprenticeships, saw a record 1.35 million searches in the past 12 months, up 37% in 2020.