From education to employment

Why university is not the only route to a great education

Hema Tank, Associate Dean at The London Institute of Banking & Finance

As the Associate Dean of the University College at The London Institute of Banking & Finance, some might wonder why I’ve come out so strongly in defence of apprenticeships (FENews, 14 June).

We focus on providing degrees for those wanting to pursue a career in banking and the wider financial sector, and we’re very proud of what we do and what our students achieve. Our degrees provide rigorous academic study in context, with clear routes into the sector. Our lecturers are not only academics but have significant sector experience and their own industry networks. And because we’ve been firmly embedded in the finance sector for almost 140 years – we started life as the Institute of Bankers in 1879 – we have excellent  links with the industry.

I strongly believe that a degree that is  focused on carving out a good career gives students the best educational opportunity, providing real value for money. With us, not only do they get the university experience but they gain skills and knowledge to help them get going in a great career.

And why should that experience be denied to students who don’t want to take a university route?

That’s why we’re supporting the development of degree-level apprenticeships in the finance sector and are calling for the apprenticeship levy to be given a chance to bed in.

Apprenticeships offer excellent opportunities for young people who want to get into work straight from school or college. They also provide  opportunities for older people who want to change career or who missed out on opportunities in their younger days and want a fresh start, combining degree level study with professional qualifications.

Degree-level apprenticeships allow direct engagement with working life and, at the same time, help people grow intellectually. They fit very well with our mission as a university college and allow us to share our bespoke ‘university experience’ with a larger group. Apprenticeships also offer a route with fewer financial worries. Employers pay for the fees and provide apprentices with a salary. Compare that with three years spent in what can be an extended adolescence at the cost of perhaps £60,000 in debt. 

But, some might ask, isn’t it better to take a degree route that is not helping to mould a student to fit an employer’s expectations or narrows students’ options? Won’t they have their minds closed by a narrow focus on the world of work?

That argument overlooks the fact that universities have become businesses selling a product – something young people and their guardians may not  consider.

Before the changes in UK higher education that made universities reliant on fee income, and took away the cap on student numbers, a university education – in almost any subject – was generally a route to a good job. At least, in theory, it signalled an ability to apply oneself to learning as well as a desire to continue to develop more fully. Employers were glad to have such people clearly flagged up and they routinely offered them on-the-job training. The students were also happy with the system – the promise of a well-paid and interesting job almost regardless of discipline was why many people took a degree.

It was also fuelled by a certain amount of snobbery. Vocational courses were for the ‘less able’ and the working class. That same snobbery is perhaps what’s fuelling the current reluctance by teachers, according to a recent survey by The Sutton Trust, to recommend apprenticeships to their students, despite growing demand and the opportunities on offer.

But the world is changing. Degrees are no longer a ‘guaranteed’ route to a fulfilling career. Unless graduates have several strings to their bow – a particular talent, good work experience, contacts, or all three – they can find it hard to persuade the best employers to take them on. 

On average, graduates still out-earn those without a degree, but that average hides a wide range. Those who study arts tend to fare less well. The average gross annual income for them in July-September 2017 was £20,696. At the other end of the spectrum, engineering graduates averaged £44,980. In business and finance, the average is £34,996. (Source: ONS)

Of course, a university education has a value that cannot be measured in pounds and pence. It helps us to think for ourselves and to develop fully as human beings. However, a degree is only part of it. A fulfilling and challenging career is at least as important.

As a small university college, we can provide a bespoke experience that not only broadens our students’ minds and academic horizons, but also allows us to give one-to-one support to help students develop the broader skills they need to succeed in the workplace. Employability skills are included as a core module in all our degrees and the majority of our students go on to a successful career in the sector.

We believe our degrees offer the best of both worlds and our students agree. We’re rated as joint fifth overall in the UK for student satisfaction, and joint 2nd in London, with 92% of its students reporting that they were satisfied with the quality of their course (2017 National Student Survey).

And if we can offer other high-quality educational routes, such as degree level apprenticeships that open up more opportunities and real prospects to more people, why wouldn’t we? 

The success of our students – whether they study full time with us or through an apprenticeship – speaks for itself.


Hema Tank, Associate Dean at The London Institute of Banking & Finance

Copyright © 2018 FE News

About The London Institute of Banking & Finance: Founded in 1879 as the Institute of Bankers, The London Institute of Banking and Finance (LIBF) is a registered charity, incorporated by Royal Charter, and a regulated awarding body and university college, providing under-graduate and post-graduate degree courses for students aiming to pursue a career in banking and finance at our university campus in central London. Our Faculty is drawn from industry practitioners with an academic background and the university has very close links with the sector. We are rated as joint fifth overall in the UK for student satisfaction with 92% of its students reporting that they were satisfied with the quality of their course (2017 National Student Survey).

LIBF also provides an accredited professional qualifications framework for the finance sector, providing firms and individuals with the skills and capability needed in today’s industry. We provide qualifications covering a wide range of subjects, including banking, regulation, conduct, ethics, investment, mortgage advice and financial advice.

We are also the only specialist awarding body for dedicated personal finance qualifications for children and young people under the national curriculum, regulated by Ofqual. We work with over 750 schools and over 50,000 young people every year.

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