From education to employment

New report shows Level 3 qualification reform will set access to HE back at least 5 years

Dr. Graeme Atherton, Director of the National Opportunities Network (NEON)

New evidence released today (11 Feb) shows that the proposed reforms to Level 3 qualifications may set back government efforts to widen access to higher education (#HE) by at least 5 years.

Nearly a third of all 18-year-old students from areas of the lowest HE participation entering HE in 2020 did so with at least one BTEC qualification, and a third of all black students.

The government is proposing that this qualification will be defunded from 2024 with students only able to choose from A-Levels or the new T-Levels.

A survey of nearly 50 universities and Uni-Connect partnerships undertaken for this new report, ‘Will abolishing BTECs mean reversing widening access to higher education?’, shows that over 90% feel the BTEC option is crucial for students from widening access backgrounds and that the new system will have a ‘devastating’ impact on social mobility.

If only half of students presently entering with BTECs from low participation areas are unable to do so, then the numbers entering from these areas will go back to 2015 levels. If none are able to enter then a decade’s progress in enabling those from the areas the government wishes to ‘level up’ to enter HE will be lost.

As the report’s author, Dr. Graeme Atherton, Director of the National Opportunities Network (NEON), states:

The ability to take an applied general qualification suits the needs of many learners who in particular want to enter the kind of vocational HE courses the government is keen to see expand. Removing this option will fundamentally damage the future aspirations of thousands of learners.’

The respondents to the survey in this report were drawn from a wide range of organisations working on a day to day basis with young people in some of the lowest income areas of the country. These included selective universities, Further Education Colleges and representatives of the government’s own Uni-Connect programme.

There was huge concern that:

  • Academically able young people from low-income backgrounds would be forced into T-Levels they did not want to do.
  • A-Level provision was severely lacking in their area thus removing that option for learners.
  • Demand for technical occupations was low in certain areas and a rapid increase in T-Level learners as many are denied HE progression would lead to higher unemployment as we try and build back better after Covid.

There was strong support for improving vocational options for young people at Level 3 and for T-Levels to succeed but removing BTECs will hamper this effort and deny many young people the right to enter higher education.

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