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Cost of living could crush comprehensive school pupils’ aspirations

Growing numbers of 16-18-year-olds are giving up on aspirations of higher education due to the rising cost of living, with thousands of school leavers revising University plans to go straight into full or part-time work. The findings are revealed as part of Early Careers, An employer’s guide to discovering future talent, a new joint report released by Totaljobs and Career Ready.

Growing numbers of 16-18-year-olds are giving up on aspirations of higher education due to the rising cost of living, with thousands of school leavers revising University plans to go straight into full or part-time work. The findings are revealed as part of Early Careers, An employer’s guide to discovering future talent*, a new joint report*.

Following official figures from UCAS revealing that the percentage of British school leavers going to University fell for the first time in a decade this year, research* suggests this number could drop even further.

The survey of 16–18-year-olds in full-time education found that half (48%) plan on going into full or part-time work when they finish school/college, rather than higher education, specifically due to the rising cost of living. With half (50%) believing this will hinder their chances of working in their desired field.

A threat to upward social mobility
The research raises concerns about the impact this will have on social mobility and inequality in the UK, with students from lower socio-economic backgrounds now increasingly likely to turn away from university due to rising costs in comparison to their more affluent counterparts.

Half (49%) of school leavers from comprehensive schools have stated that due to rising costs they plan to go straight into work, compared to 39% of those who attended private schools.

With a large majority (70%) of 16-18-year-olds from comprehensive schools believing employers are more likely to look favourably on candidates with a university degree, they’re  deciding to put their career goals aside, to avoid the financial burden of further education[1].

Despite 55% of businesses reporting a skills gap, a significant proportion still favour those with a university background. 37% said they require entry level staff to have completed university study; with 24% requiring at least a 2:1 and 8% going further and requiring the candidate to either come from a Russell Group or Oxbridge university.

Lack of useful career advice
Despite being seen as an excellent way to learn and gain financial independence, just 17% of school-leavers are considering apprenticeships.

This could be attributed to the lack of diverse career advice offered by schools, as over two-thirds (67%) of 16–18-year-olds said the career advice at their school or college is very geared towards university, with 58% stating that there is little information out there about alternatives.

However, the research indicates that this is an issue not just limited to schools. 50% of parents said they simply don’t feel equipped or knowledgeable enough to advise their child about apprenticeships, with 43% saying the same about university. A further 48% say they feel overwhelmed when considering their child’s future options.

34% of parents also said they’ve written off the idea of university for their child because of associated costs, with 44% saying they were initially planning to financially support their child through university but can no longer afford to do so.

Jon Wilson, CEO of Totaljobs said: “It’s concerning that these findings suggest the acute challenges of the cost-of-living crisis could have a chronic impact on the development of skills in the UK. While higher education isn’t necessarily a requirement for career success, it’s associated costs shouldn’t  prohibiting people at the very start of their career journeys from being able to achieve their personal or professional aspirations.

“Institutions and organisations now more than ever must engage with younger candidates on career opportunities and look inwards at their approach to either offer more apprenticeships, paid work experience placement or schemes, or seek to attract and accelerate talent to existing schemes.”

Tokunbo Ajasa-Oluwa, CEO of Career Ready said:Covid-19 and the cost-of-living crisis has had a huge impact on the opportunities available to young people, especially those who face socio-economic barriers, and many are having to make key decisions about their financial futures at a much younger age.

“Young people often think university is the only route post-school, but this isn’t the case. More work needs to be done to expand and emphasise that apprenticeships can be a great pathway for young people into the world of work.

“One of the most effective ways to do this is for employers to engage with young people  via paid internships and career mentoring, showing them what the world of work is really like. We urge more businesses to join us in helping young people to launch their careers and unlock their skills.”

[1] The government has estimated that university students in last year’s intake will borrow about £45,800 each on average before they graduate https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn01079/

*Research by Totaljobs and Career Ready.

Early Careers, An employer’s guide to discovering future talent*

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