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Not just other people’s children: what the public thinks about vocational education

Previous SMF research has highlighted the relative neglect of Further Education in both the media and among policymakers. Some have suggested this reflects broader social and cultural perceptions that vocational education is less prestigious and desirable than academic education.

In this briefing, supported by the Further Education Trust for Leadership, we present the results of a nationally representative survey which shows that the general public believe vocational qualifications to be just as useful and desirable as a university degree – if not more.

Key points

  • Vocational education is seen as the best option for school leavers: 48% of people say they would prefer their child to get a vocational qualification over university or work.
  • This appreciation for vocational education extends to university graduates and middle class people: almost as many people in the ABC1 social grade would want their child to take a vocational qualification (43%) as want their child to go to university (45%).
  • However, there is an age divide, with 18-24 year olds significantly more likely to favour university to vocational education .
  • People with vocational qualifications are believed to be more technically skilled, work-ready, adaptable, proactive and innovative than university graduates, though degrees are expected to bring greater financial gains.
  • Most people think that vocational education should be at least an equal political priority to higher education, with one in three saying vocational education should receive more focus and less than one in ten in favour of prioritising universities.
  • Recent Government policy is encouraging, promising more and better resourced vocational options, but more is needed to meet public expectations.

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