The business magnate and investor Richard Branson has warned that university education is “not the right fit” for many young people, and believes that “more options” should be made available to teenagers after completing their GCSEs.
Speaking to The Guardian, Branson argued that the portrayal of university as the “be all and end all” has contributed to a digital skills gap in the UK workforce, that could become an “unmanageable problem” if left unaddressed.
Branson instead believes apprenticeships and vocational training offer an effective alternative to university that can also better equip young people with the skillsets required in an increasingly digitalised economy.
He hopes that employers will play a greater role in delivering education and training, so that “the skill sets required for industry are designed by the industry that needs them”.
Helena Blair, CUSU’s access officer, agrees with the importance of highlighting the range of options available to school leavers. Speaking to The Cambridge Student, she said: “Access at Cambridge supports the promotion of choice – it is more than simply encouraging as many people as possible to apply here."
“The most important thing is that we show people that they have many options regardless of their background, and help people make informed decisions on whether or not university is for them.”
One question raised by Branson’s comments is that of whether our degrees adequately prepare us with the digital skills that are increasingly demanded by employers.
A third-year economist at Girton said: “I definitely think it would be useful if our degrees incorporated more digital skills training, and I agree that in general too many people do go to University, although I’m not sure this really applies to Cambridge as a top institution.”