Significant public support for degree-level apprenticeships as an alternative to traditional university degrees is revealed in new polling to be presented to delegates today at an international summit on apprenticeships and vocational education organised by the Sutton Trust in partnership with Pearson.

One third (34%) of people say a degree-level apprenticeship would be better for somebody’s future career prospects than a university degree, while two in ten (21%) think a traditional degree would be better. The new poll of 1,728 adults aged 16-25 in England by Ipsos MORI showed that a further third of people (33%) feel both are equally valuable.

The summit will be opened this morning by the Leader of the Opposition, Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP and will be addressed by the Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise, Matthew Hancock MP.

Other polling to be presented to delegates attending the Higher Ambitions summit in London shows that:

•         More than half of young people (55%) aged 11-16 say they would be interested in an apprenticeship  rather than going to university if it was available in a job they wanted to do, but only 30% say that their teachers have ever discussed the idea of apprenticeships with them at school. (Ipsos MORI, 11-16 year-olds)

•         Qualitative research carried out amongst 14-16 year olds found that they reported very few conversations about post-16 options with teachers, who they felt were more concerned with current qualifications. (Britain Thinks)

•         Only 26% of teachers think (to a great or some extent) there are enough apprenticeships at A level standard or higher available. 65% said they would rarely or never advise a high-achieving student to consider an apprenticeship.  (NFER Teacher Omnibus)

The Ipsos-MORI polling of adults aged 16-75 also shows that:

•         Two thirds of the public believe that most apprenticeships should be designed to meet A-level standard (Level 3) or higher, whereas government data shows that two thirds of apprenticeships started by young people in 2012/13 were only at GCSE standard (Level 2).

•         56% of parents say they are likely to encourage their children to go for a degree, while only 40% would encourage them to do an apprenticeship.

The summit follows last year’s Boston Consulting Group report for the Sutton Trust which called for an extra 150-300,000 apprenticeships at A-level standard (level 3) or higher and on last Friday’s Pearson/CBI skills survey which showed serious concerns among employers about recruiting apprentices, graduates and technicians particularly in scientific or engineering roles.

Official figures highlighted in the delegates’ report show that in 2012/13, there were 180,000 apprenticeship starts for 16-24 year-olds to GCSE standard (intermediate), 97,000 to A-level standard (advanced) and 3,000 degree-level (Higher ) apprenticeships.

The average apprenticeship for 16-18 year-olds lasted 17 months but for 19-24 year olds it was shorter, at 14 months. Around a third of young people’s apprenticeships lasted a year or less.

Conor Ryan, Director of Research at the Sutton Trust, said: “There is a growing appetite for real apprenticeships among young people and the wider public. But there are still not nearly enough apprenticeships at A-level or degree standard available. It is vital that this gap is addressed.

“Our research has shown that in other European countries, particularly in Germany and Switzerland, three year good quality apprenticeships are a serious option for all young people. Despite some recent improvements, we still have a mountain to climb to match ambitions in England.”

Rod Bristow, President of Pearson Core Markets, said: “Vocational education’s time has come: we know that young people want it and employers need it. The UK has the opportunity to put high quality vocational education and apprenticeships at the heart of our education system and our plan for economic growth.

“We know that the best vocational systems around the world combine the academic skills of ‘know-what’ and ‘know why’ with the more applied skills of ‘know-how’. All jobs in the 21st century, value not just what people know, but what they can do. In the UK many vocational students are already making progress onto HE or into great jobs, but if we are to compete with the best we need to be more focused, more aspirational, more relevant.

“Pearson is working with employers and international education experts through our World Class Qualifications programme to ensure that young people in the UK gain the blend of skills that will allow them to flourish in education and employment.”

Other speakers at today’s summit include Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education and Skills at the OECD, Professor Alison Wolf, Graham Stuart MP, chairman of the Education Select Committee, Professor Michael Barber and Ben Page, chief executive of Ipsos- Mori.


1.       The Sutton Trust is a foundation set up in 1997, dedicated to improving social mobility through education. It has published over 140 research studies and funded and evaluated programmes that have helped hundreds of thousands of young people of all ages, from early years through to access to the professions.

2.       Pearson is the world’s leading learning company, with 40,000 employees in more than 80 countries working to help people of all ages to make measurable progress in their lives through learning.

3.       Polling for the summit was drawn from four surveys:

•         Ipsos MORI surveyed a total of 1,728 adults aged 16-75 in England from 13th – 17th June 2014 via its Online iOmnibus Survey. The survey data were weighted by age, gender, region, social grade, working status and main shopper to the known profile of the English population aged 16-75. 455 respondents were parents of children aged 0-19.

•         Ipsos MORI surveyed 2,796 young people between February and April 2014, as a part of their Young People Omnibus. Interviewing was conducted via self-completion questionnaires which were completed in school during a single classroom session. The survey data were weighted by gender, age and region to the known profile of pupils aged 11-16 in England and Wales. The National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) surveyed a representative sample of 1,163 teachers in March 2014 in both primary and secondary schools for their Teacher Voice omnibus survey.

•         BritainThinks was commissioned to undertake qualitative research in order to provide an insight into how vocational qualifications are viewed by students, teachers and parents. Focus groups were carried out with seven prospective vocational students and prospective A-Level students aged 14-16, eight parents, and six secondary school teachers responsible for a range of academic and vocational subjects. All fieldwork was carried out between 13th – 20th May 2014.

4.       The summit report and other information about the summit are available at The Sutton Trust/BCG report Real Apprenticeships is available here.

5.       Data on apprenticeships are from the Skills Funding Agency. Further details are included in the summit report which is attached.

Media enquiries

If you're a journalist with a question about our work, get in touch with Sam or Rocky on 0204 536 4642. This number is also monitored out of hours.

E: [email protected] T: 020 7802 1660

Keep up to date with the latest news