By suggesting university should only be seen as the "icing on the cake" rather than a "route to market" for job-seekers, the Duke of York has entered the recent education debate in style. Itâs "not true" that universities produce graduates who are trained for the world of work according to the Duke, who is carving out a new role as a champion for apprenticeships.
The Government's roll-out of University Technical Colleges (UTCs), which offer a more vocational education for 14 to 19-year-olds, will turn out teenagers who will have an advantage over many who stay in traditional education, the former Royal Navy helicopter pilot, who did not go to university, believes. A UCAS report found that school leavers were "more likely than ever" to receive offers of university places, but fueled concerns that too many students are being pushed into higher education without considering alternatives such as apprenticeships.
"Coming out of university there's a tendency to believe that you're trained as well as educated, which is not actually true," the Duke said. "In some respects I think that choosing the apprenticeship path and doing a foundation degree and then going on to university you will always have the advantage over many of your university colleagues because you have earned your spurs in the business world before going to university, so you're going into university as a trained person, you're not coming out as an untrained person."
In addressing the comprehensive system shortfalls, he said:
"If you look at the whole of the education system not everybody fits into that Utopian desire of everything in one category.
"Life actually requires different people to have different skills and we have to adapt those skills and that knowledge across a wide range of businesses."
According to Gordon Rayner of The Telegraph, the Duke is concentrating on promoting apprenticeships, entrepreneurs and small businesses at home after he gave up his role as the UK's trade ambassador following a series of scandals over his business contacts. To recognize achievement in technical education, he recently launched The Duke of York's Award.
"When we had the crisis in 2008 business withdrew its overseas activities and it became clear at that stage to me that if we were going to be a prosperous nation in future we have to look at what are the skills that we are generating here," he said.
The last Labour government first introduced University Technical Colleges, which are the brainchild of the former education secretary, Lord Baker. With 17 already open and another 27 in the pipeline, the program has rapidly expanded under the Coalition. With shorter holidays than other schools, fewer structured lessons, more time spent learning independently and working on projects, students work a nine-to-five day. Despite being "superfluous" to many careers, Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, said in November that large numbers of students were being forced to gain degrees.
Following a sharp rise in the number of school-leavers being pushed into taking arts and humanities courses at university, leaving them with skills that fail to meet the needs of the economy, Lord Baker warned that the UK had been left with a major shortage of engineers. Almost half of university leavers are now in low-skilled jobs or unemployed. A "totally unrealistic" target imposed by the last Labour government to get 50% of young people into higher education is to blame according to Lord Baker.