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Hertfordshire East of England

The Big Debate: Do Too Many School Leavers Go To University?

Liz Langmaid 27 Mar 2018
IoD Hertfordshire

On Tuesday 20th March 2018  IoD Hertfordshire in conjunction with the Hertfordshire Chamber of Commerce were welcomed by North Herts College for our first ever ‘Big Debate’

During these series of debates we hope to explore questions and subjects that really matter and that aren’t often talked about elsewhere (watch this space for our next debate!).

Thank you to all the panel members and to Richard Potter, CTO of Microsoft Services who did an amazing job of chairing the debate and who had travelled all the way from Bristol for the evening. Thanks also goes to the catering students at the college who prepared and served the canapes and drinks.  An invaluable experience for the students and which tied in perfectly with the theme of the event.  The debate was kicked off with a show of hands with 95% of the audience agreeing with the question ‘Do Too Many School Leavers Go To University’. Each of the debate panel then took it in turns to briefly present their position on the question:

Professor Damian Ward, Dean of Hertfordshire Business School was a firm ‘no’.  He educates over 4,000 students at the Business School and 96% of students are in full time education within 6 months.  He added that graduates are less likely to be involved in crime and are more likely to become healthy and productive citizens with an increased earning potential.

Seamus Nevin, IoD’s Head of Policy Research had arguments for and against.  University graduates are more resilient, self-critical, display an aptitude for critical thinking and having a university education allows more opportunities to retrain. He also added that due to the major skills gap we need to move to a system of lifelong learning where people dip into and out of education. Consequently we need to break down the barriers between so called academic and vocational education as people will need both.

Lindsey Sherring, Director of Apprenticeships at Hart Learning & Development was firmly in the ‘yes’ camp.  She believes that apprenticeships give children the skills needed for the work place and she works with employers to fill the skills gap.

David Kennedy, Headmaster of John Warner School also had arguments for and against.  He made the point that the more time spent in high quality education and training the better the outcome for young people, employers and their families. He went on to say that high quality apprenticeships linked to college and university courses, if delivered well, offer a combination of academic and practical training whose effectiveness cannot be doubted when high quality models are studied eg Germany.

Silvia Vitiello, Partner at Kingston Smith was a yes but a little on the fence.  We should be seeking a system that equips the learner with skills, knowledge and experiences. She then added that we should be questioning whether the current focus on school leavers’ success being defined primarily by their route to and through university is right. 

During the debate advice was given for businesses, students, universities, apprenticeships and schools. Businesses need to be enthusiastic and sell what makes them special to attract the best employees.  Those businesses that are successful invest their time and money moulding and training their employees.  For students the best advice was do your research to find out the best fit for each individual. It is a seller’s world, so if you have a spark and are bright you will have a bright future. Universities and apprenticeships need to work together to provide something to suit everyone.  The Government need to fund a vocational curriculum to enthuse and engage disaffected and difficult 14-16 year olds and an Industrial Engagement Officer is needed for every school.

In conclusion real engagement needs to come from businesses to help reduce the skills gap. When businesses engage with universities there is a great benefit to the economy of the region in terms of start-up companies, R&D and increased GDP, however more needs to be done to get students to study subjects such as engineering.

At the end of the debate a final vote showed the percentage of the audience that agreed with the question ‘Do Too Many School Leavers Go To University’ had fallen by 10-15%.

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