Belfast Telegraph

Students urged to seek degree alternatives

By Paul Gosling

Disappointed would-be undergraduates have been urged to consider seeking apprenticeships.

The call came from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and followed record number of degree-course rejections by Northern Ireland’s two universities.

The University of Ulster received 33,373 applications from 15,469 applicants for just 4,500 undergraduate places in the 2011/12 year.

Queen’s University received 21,000 applications from 16,000 applicants for 3,466 full time places.

Applications have risen strongly during the past two years, with students keen to avoid rises in graduate fees being imposed in Britain.

Wilfred Mitchell, the FSB’s policy chair, said: “The draw of university education is historically a strong one in Northern Ireland, but with a rise in fees looming, pressure on university places has increased massively this year. This has been accompanied by record unemployment and a decrease in career opportunities for many.

“The FSB believes that, in light of these conditions, serious attention must now be paid to the alternatives to university and in particular the value of apprenticeship schemes offered by the Department for Employment and Learning through Sector Skills Councils.”

According to FSB research, 70% of apprenticeships take place in small firms, with many developing into full-time jobs. “It is important to remember that significant numbers of graduates are unable to find suitable employment, and many students find themselves leaving university saddled with large debts that take years to clear,” said Mitchell.

But figures by the Office for National Statistics show that graduates on average earn 85% more than those who leave school at 16.

Belfast Telegraph