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Aspiration or Vocation? Qualifications young people should be proud of

The status of vocational education must be improved to match academic studies, observes Ben Howlett, National Chairman of Conservative Future

Over the last 18 months as the National Chairman of Conservative Future, the youth wing of the Conservative Party, I have been taken aback by the sheer number of young people who contact me on a subject that two or even three decades ago was not at the forefront of young people’s minds.

Young people from backgrounds in higher and further education and those who went straight into work have almost universally said that they would have liked more opportunities to have the choice to decide what to do with their future.

With the recent Iron Lady film out in cinemas, the issue of the status of vocational education has become even more topical as people address the legacy of Thatcherism.  As Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher created a society of aspiration, one where individual self-improvement became a conventional doctrine.  A society was created where class divisions homogenised into a single class where virtually an entire population considered themselves middle class, or at least aspired to be middle class.  This had a massive impact on the education of young people.  It created a situation where almost everyone aspired to attend university, where a degree became the certificate for society. Unfortunately, this was at the expense of vocational and further education. 

Of course this aspirant middle class had its long-term benefits to both society and the economy.  Home ownership soared, standards of living rose, the economy was rebalanced away from the public sector to the private sector, allowing Britain’s entrepreneurial society to boom, producing jobs, growth and ultimately more tax revenue to invest into UK Plc. and our public services, including higher education.

Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with going to university.  Quite the contrary, as someone who went to University, I do not want to deny anyone the same opportunity.  However, what about those people not offered any real choice about their futures?  What about the young person who wants to go into further education or get an apprenticeship?  Why should they feel that their qualification is socially any less worthy than a degree?

This Government is doing something that has never existed in further and higher education.  They are introducing competition based on the informed choices of students.  Young people will be able to look at the evidence about what is the best course for them, and which course offers them the best prospects for the future, and make a decision. The Government is releasing much more information about courses, for example on future employability and incomes, so young people can make up their own minds.  This is a hugely positive step going forwards for young people.

It is a tragedy that young people in vocational and further education have felt second-class citizens.  In reality those workers with a vocational education or an apprenticeship became vital contributors to our economy and helped produce substantial growth.

There are huge benefits from the Government putting so many resources into creating apprenticeships, but this isn’t just about money. We need to ensure that we learn the lessons of New Labour.  A Government cannot throw money at a problem in the inane hope that it will automatically provide positive results.  Instead, the underlying problems must be tackled head-on.  In this instance the Government must continue to improve the status of further education.  Over the coming months Conservative Future will be putting together recommendations on how this can be achieved via a high profile campaign.  It is a difficult campaign to mount as it is one that needs to begin to change preconceptions amassed over 20-30 years. 

This change in mind-set may not happen instantly, however Conservative Future members are the future of the party and our views will shape policy for decades to come.  Conservative Future looks forward to future generations of young people being given the opportunity to aspire to a life where they can socially and economically benefit as a result of the choices that they make.  The future looks brilliant for vocational and further education if we work together to ensure a greater reputation for this education sector.

 


Comments on: Aspiration or Vocation? Qualifications young people should be proud of

Gravatar Harri Jussila 08 March 2012
It is going to be hard to make vocational and higher education the norm again, seeing how university education became so successful and so mainstream amongst the middle class. being part of the middle class meant stability, and there is nothing wrong with that. it is just that there has been less of a focus of following our dreams and interests, and more of earning that paycheck. When the country prospers, and there is less of a need to ensure financial survivability, then i think the focus of the newer generation can be towards their aspirations. r/>r/>http://www.time-management-solutions.com
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Gravatar Reality 25 January 2012
And where did Ben go to school? Which university? What vocational study and work has Ben done that so equips him to posit such past thinking platitudes? r/>r/>One example. How old is Ben here? In his twenties? So how does he know what the "two or even three decades ago was not at the forefront of young people’s minds". r/>r/>Can we please have some intelligence. All these juvenile thinkers Mr Blond uses have little experience of life. Largely old fashioned ideas. And so will be treated as largely irrelevant to the needs Britain has. But then perhaps that is not Mr Blonds real motive. What was that about making money?
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Gravatar best male enhancement 24 January 2012
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Gravatar Tom Hunt 23 January 2012
Really interesting piece Ben. In large agreement. I think we need to get away from the pessimism of saying in a kind of snobbish way, "Not everyone can do university, implying that not everyone is good enough", to a more optimistic tone associated with the rigour and inherent worth of apprentiships and the way that they can sit very comfortably with precisely the kind aspiration you flagged up in the early part of the blog. r/>r/>If the result of the Government"s reforms to higher education is a slight drop in those attending university, it must be on the back of the positivity and optimism associated with apprentiships and rebalencing our economy. r/>r/>
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Gravatar Tom Hunt 23 January 2012
Really interesting piece Ben. In large agreement. I think we need to get away from the pessimism of saying in a kind of snobbish way, "Not everyone can do university, implying that not everyone is good enough", to a more optimistic tone associated with the rigour and inherent worth of apprentiships and the way that they can sit very comfortably with precisely the kind aspiration you flagged up in the early part of the blog. r/>r/>If the result of the Government"s reforms to higher education is a slight drop in those attending university, it must be on the back of the positivity and optimism associated with apprentiships and rebalencing our economy. r/>r/>
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Gravatar Tim Nicol 23 January 2012
I suggest we bring back Polytechnics and make them centres for excellence in vocational subjects. r/>r/>Www.mihcentre.co.uk
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Detailed Summary

Date Published
23 January 2012

Issue(s)
New Economies, Innovative Markets

About The Authors

Ben Howlett

Ben Howlett is the National Chairman of Conservative Future. As a member of Conservative Future for over 5 years, as a...