Norfolk and Suffolk 2017 A-level results near, as figures show fewer pupils plan to go to university

The University of East Anglia. Picture: James Bass

The University of East Anglia. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press � 2008

For students in their teens, weighing up their next steps is a hefty - but necessary - decision.

Professor John Last, vice-chancellor of Norwich University of the Arts.
Photo: Owen Richards

Professor John Last, vice-chancellor of Norwich University of the Arts. Photo: Owen Richards - Credit: Owen Richards

The life experience of university and potential of a degree are often pitted against the skills progression of apprenticeships and the workplace, or even the worldliness of a gap year.

On Thursday, thousands of students around Norfolk and Suffolk will discover what comes next as their A-level results are released.

There are more options for school leavers than ever before - which, combined with steep university tuition fees, seem to be forcing many to think twice about their options.

Figures from the Sutton Trust, a charity which aims to improve social mobility, show the proportion of young people who think they are very or fairly likely to go to university has dropped to 74pc - down from 81pc four years ago.

Our region is a good reflection of the difference in decision - while Norwich has two growing universities and a large student population, figures have previously shown that Great Yarmouth and Waveney have some of the lowest university application rates in the country.

Stuart Rimmer, principal at East Coast College, said, with more choice on offer than ever, it was key for students to think carefully about their next move.

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He said: 'One thing that is worth remembering is that it's very difficult to know, at a young age, what you want to do when you grow up.

'It's also important to acknowledge that, often, people don't end up working in the field they get their degree in.

East Coast College
CEO and principal Stuart Rimmer.
PHOTO: Nick Butcher

East Coast College CEO and principal Stuart Rimmer. PHOTO: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

'University is an expensive decision to make when there are so many other choices out there.

'Of course, with more options it does create a more complex decision - and there is often pressure for students to gallop into a career - but the main thing is that students, and parents, should look at all options and take their time.'

MORE: A-level results day 2017 - everything you need to know

He said new ways of completing degrees unlocked higher education for more students.

'There are different ways of accessing degrees today - we have Degrees on your Doorstep, where people can keep their part-time job, live at home, save money,' he said.

'It's not a case of go to university or don't anymore - there's much more choice.'

Students at CNS in Norwich get their A Level results.
PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

Students at CNS in Norwich get their A Level results. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY - Credit: SIMON FINLAY

With many universities handing out more first-class degrees than ever, critics say the value of the qualification is lessening.

It's an argument universities refute - and one they say ignores the wider benefits of a degree.

Professor John Last, vice-chancellor of Norwich University of the Arts (NUA), said a degree's value could be viewed 'economically, socially and culturally'.

'It's a great shame if young people with the talent and opportunity to go to university are being deterred by fees,' he said. 'Certainly, the current debate about university admissions tends to focus on the cost rather than the value of higher education.

'We see high proportions of NUA students move into highly-skilled jobs after graduation in career fields they are passionate about.

'Socially and culturally, students spend three years of their lives with peers who share the same passion for the subject. They learn to explore and innovate in their field of expertise and often make life-long friends and contacts on their journey.'

He added that, typically, graduates earn 35pc more than school leavers.

Helena Gillespie, acaedmic director of widening participation at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and senior lecturer in education, agreed that there was more to a degree than a piece of paper.

She said: 'There is a really wide range of benefits to studying for a degree and they're not just about learning the content of the course. The evidence shows that for the vast majority of men and for all women, they are more likely to get a better paid job as the result of having a degree. But there are longer term benefits too, for example developing knowledge and expertise simply for the love of learning and that shouldn't be underestimated.'

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