New research by the Social Market Foundation (SMF) think tank reveals a big increase in students with BTECs entering university from the most disadvantaged areas compared to those who study just A levels.
Between 2008-2015 students entering higher education from the most disadvantaged backgrounds with just A level qualifications increased by 19%. However, the research shows that those with BTECs increased by 116%. Those combining both A levels and BTECs increased by 340%, albeit from a low base.
The report Passports to Progress, supported by Pearson, examines the value of different types of vocational qualifications to young people’s higher education prospects and careers. It highlights a stark difference by qualification type in the extent to which area disadvantage is related to progression into higher education.
The research shows that the proportion of 18 year olds from the most disadvantaged areas who enter into higher education with A levels is much lower (10%) than the proportion of 18 year olds from the most advantaged areas who enter into higher education with A levels (36%).
However, the proportion of young people from the most disadvantaged areas who enter into higher education with BTECs is higher than the most advantaged areas. Between 2008 and 2015, the proportion of 18 year olds from the most disadvantaged areas entering into higher education with BTECs more than doubled.
Other key findings from the report include:
- Almost 100,000 students (1 in 4) entering university now have a BTEC qualification compared to just under 50,000 in 2008, according to the latest available UCAS data.
- Acceptance of those with BTECs and a combination of BTECs and A levels is increasing rapidly and the proportion has almost doubled in the last eight years. In 2008 just 14% of those accepted into higher education had a BTEC – in 2015 more than a quarter (26%) did.
- Increasing numbers of young people taking at least one vocational qualification at Key Stage 5 have very good GCSE results (37% in 2015; ‘good’ means at least 5 A* to C GCSEs or equivalents, including English and maths). Increasing numbers of young people taking BTECs or a combination of BTECs and A levels are also achieving high grades at Key Stage 5, and then progressing into higher education.
- Nevertheless, these high achievers are so far more likely to go to ‘lower tariff’ (less selective) higher education institutions. The most selective universities are still choosing ‘high achieving’ students who have taken A levels. In 2015, just 2% of 18 year old acceptances into higher tariff institutions had BTECs at grade ABB or above.
- After university, those with a BTEC and a degree have an hourly earnings premium of 20% compared to those with a BTEC as their highest qualification. Those with a BTEC and a degree have a gross weekly earnings premium of 22% compared to those with a BTEC as their highest qualification.
- The entry rate into higher education for those with A levels is highly differentiated by area, with disadvantaged areas doing the worst. For those with BTECs, or a combination of BTECs and A levels, the entry rate is much more even across areas.
Emran Mian, author of the report and director of the SMF, commented:
“Social mobility for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds may be rising faster than Government figures suggest. While recent DfE statistics focus on students with A Levels, our analysis shows that the largest rises in higher education participation for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are among those doing vocational qualifications instead of or as well as A Levels.
“Our report reveals that many more students from disadvantaged areas with BTECs are progressing into higher education.
“The research also shows that many more pupils with very good GCSE grades are going on to take BTECs at Key Stage 5, suggesting that there are more ‘high ability’ young people taking BTECs.
“This suggests that BTECs are becoming increasingly recognised as a passport to progression into higher education.
“However, we also find that young people with BTECs are, for the moment at least, more likely to go to lower and middle tariff institutions, with more ‘selective’ universities still preferring A levels.”
Mr Mian added: “We believe that this increase in students with BTECs entering higher education helps to solve the ‘riddle’ of the figures released last week by the Department for Education data which seemed to suggest that higher fees were putting children from less well-off backgrounds off going into higher education.
“Those figures only included young people with at least one A Level and miss out those going into higher education with BTECs and other vocational qualifications.”
Commenting on the report, Rod Bristow, President of Pearson in the UK, commented:
“Today’s new report from the Social Market Foundation shows that students with BTECs enter higher education from across the full range of income groups, and are more representative of society than A Level students. As such they represent higher education at its most diverse. These students are often the first in their families to attend university, and their progress is something we all celebrate today.”
Notes to editors:
NB – We can provide access to BTEC students who are going into higher education, as well as a college to visit to meet BTEC students for any broadcaster interested in this.
A copy of ‘Passports to progress (part 2) – How do vocational qualifications help young people in building their careers?’ is attached to this release. This is the second report in a series of two, both of which are kindly supported by Pearson. The first report was published in July 2016 and can be read here.
For further details about the report and to request interviews with SMF Director Emran Mian, contact Sean O’Brien, SMF communications manager on firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Social Market Foundation:
The Social Market Foundation (SMF) is a non-partisan think tank. We believe that fair markets, complemented by open public services, increase prosperity and help people to live well. We conduct research and run events looking at a wide range of economic and social policy areas, focusing on economic prosperity, public services and consumer markets. The SMF is resolutely independent, and the range of backgrounds and opinions among our staff, trustees and advisory board reflects this.
To interview the report author or for further details about the research, please contact:
Social Market Foundation