Higher education isn’t for everyone

It was with a sense of déjà vu that I attended Woodfarm High School’s careers evening last Thursday. With one notable exception – there were far more choices for pupils in the array of stands from colleges and universities to Construction Skills and Morgan Stanley, than when Lyle started out on this process four years ago.

I put this down to two things; the enormous effort that is being made to develop Scotland’s young workforce and the fact that the economy is a lot stronger than it was in 2011. It was lovely to see companies like Morgan Stanley and Scottish Enterprise actively courting young people for careers in financial services and economic development.

The longest economic downturn in UK history at last seems to be easing at least in terms of the way employers view young people. During the recession companies simply couldn’t afford to bring on newbies, preferring instead to take their pick from the many thousands of experienced people looking for jobs.

Faced with such a variety, 15 year-old Ethan gravitated to the universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, St. Andrews and Stirling. His starting point being they all have great sports facilities, as he’s a talented athlete. In preparation for the evening, however, he’d been asked which subjects he was interested in to which he replied psychology, chemical engineering and marine biology. Wow! How do you narrow it down from there?

At one point in the evening, though, he drifted over to Skills Development Scotland’s stand and though I didn’t hear what was said know – from working there – that the advisers will be encouraging young people to look beyond higher education for a successful and fulfilling career.

East Renfrewshire schools have one of the highest participation rates in HE of any local authority in Scotland (67% of pupils went to university in 2014), but it’s a lesser-known fact that East Ren pupils also have a high drop out rate at uni.

East Renfrewshire is predominantly middle-class with parents who are very interested and active in their children’s education. The authority also employs techniques to “hot-house” kids to exam success such as Easter and Saturday school. (No complaints from this parent. Ethan studies far better in a group.)

However, intensive support at school combined with over anxious parents seems to be resulting in a perfect storm – young people who slavishly follow the road to university (often to study subjects their parents look upon as “safe”) and when they get there discover a) the subject they chose is not for them or b) independent study is a huge culture shock.

That’s why I admire the moves afoot to persuade young people that there are other routes to career success such as Modern Apprenticeships, college (which can be a springboard to uni) and progressing straight from school to jobs, which thankfully are much easier to find than four years ago.

I’ve been listening joyously of late to a friend describe the progress of her son who started studying graphic design at college last month. Loving the independence and the fact that he can spend all his time doing what he loves, Jack has turned a corner.