‘Either apprenticeships or universities for almost everybody’ – David Cameron tells employers at CBI conference

Prime Minister David Cameron today outlined his vision of post-16 education and training as one in which learners are either on an apprenticeship or at university — casting further doubt over the future of two-year classroom-based college courses.

Just days after FE Week revealed Department for Education plans to get 16-year-old vocational learners onto apprenticeships after a year in college, Mr Cameron told an audience at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) annual conference that he wanted to see “either apprenticeships or universities for almost everybody”.

“We’ve got to build an economy where you don’t go either one way with apprentices or the other way with universities,” he said at the event in London’s Grosvenor House Hotel.

“The apprenticeship system needs to be flexible enough, as it is at the moment, so that many people can go on and do a degree while they are working in one of your businesses. That’s what we want to build.

“At the end of the day though, we want to see fewer and fewer 18-year-olds leaving school without taking either path. If we’re going to compete in a global economy then we need to make sure that our young people are more highly skilled, more highly trained than our competitors. So either apprenticeships or universities for almost everybody.”

Critical reaction to Mr Cameron’s comments was swift, with many taking to Twitter.

Jane Pothecary, a Labour member of Thurrock Council, for instance tweeted that it was “the end of further education and educational opportunity”. It was echoed by Lynne Taylerson, who tweeted: “The end of #FE as we know it????”

Meanwhile, education and skills adviser Mark Browne tweeted: “3m Apprenticeship target hit at what cost?” and Sue Gerrard labelled Mr Cameron’s outline “catastrophically counterproductive”.

Pic: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

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  1. Ewart Keep

    I wouldn’t panic too hard just yet. Mr Cameron will have to find enough employers willing to provide enough places before anything happens to deliver this policy. I wouldn’t be holding my breath on their willingness to comply. The 3 million target would come nowhere near fulfilling the PM’s ‘vision’.

  2. Ann Limb

    Absolutely agree with Ewart on this. In fact a response from FE sector which said hurrah we can supply the 3m apprenticeships and great that government is valuing technical and professional education would b good.

  3. Paul Hanks

    The apprentice needs an employer colleges should look at the intake and ask how many would persuade employers to.invest in them

    Then ask what happens to those not in apprentice or sixth form pathway

  4. Julie Pomone

    Maybe it will go some way to ending the flood of full time students who aspire to employment, only to find out sometimes too late that they havent got what employers need

  5. Jayne Read

    The Government need to concentrate on getting learners their English and Maths qualifications before they reach 16 plus to take the strain off FE. FE can then concentrate on their vocational qualifications, which are necessary for productivity.

  6. Mike Farmer

    I would also suggest not to get too excited! Firstly, note that these remarks from Cameron came in answer to a question rather than in his prepared speech. It is possible therefore that although they represent government thinking they are not a fully-developed policy. It is therefore possible that this is just kite-flying to see how people react. Or it couild be a mistake. They could be followed by the classic civil service follow-up along the lines of ‘what the PM meant to say was …’.
    Secondly, the numbers will not stack up with the 3m tarkget. Take the number of 11-16 year olds in England currently,(less than 2m), since these will be the 16-21 year olds in 2020, subtract our best estimate for how many of these will be in HE or heading that way by 2020 (say 1m), and whoever is left would be doing an apprenticeship according to Cameron. This does not look like 3 million!

  7. Simon Perryman

    Of course we need to keep developing apprenticeship and growing numbers but we need to focus when apprenticeship adds most value and not just drive numbers at any cost. But to pretend that a full time FE route is not needed would be shockingly ignorant. The trick which other Countries admire about the UK is that we are flexible, offering both routes with each aiming to offer high quality technical and vocational skills and able to react to changing economic conditions. This is also what the sensible pragmatic people in Holland do, making sure curricula is based on latest standards and includes high quality work experience whichever route is chosen.

  8. The step towards getting young people into work as soon as possible is very important but this does not eliminate the problem of finding employers to take them on.
    The evidence suggests (https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/15728) that full-time students are disadvantaged in their learning and understanding by a lack of real world experience. In contrast apprentices learn and understand better because of their exposure to work and supervision by expert others.
    Getting people into apprenticeships sooner provides a more pragmatic approach to technical learning which can then be delivered in a relevant way and tailored to meet local employer needs. However, I am not suggesting we stick with what we have got – change is needed, but research and empirical evidence should drive the change.