The number of students gaining a place in higher education with a vocational qualification is at its highest level on record, with more than a quarter of last year’s successful applicants holding a Btec, according to Ucas figures.
A report by the admissions service, published today, found that 26 per cent of English students who gained a place at a UK higher education institution in 2015 had a Btec qualification. The figure has been rising every year since 2008, when it was 14 per cent.
Btecs are vocational courses that cover an area wider than a single occupation, such as business, sport and applied science.
Today’s report warned that although there were more qualifications available to young people than before, the new system was not yet fully understood by students and universities.
In a foreword to the report, Ucas chief executive Mary Curnock Cook said there had been a shift in the types of qualifications many young people were using to apply to university.
A significant minority were now applying with “newer and less traditional qualifications or through less straightforward routes”, she said.
“It has become clear to Ucas that the opportunities and challenges of this change are not yet well understood by learners, parents, teachers or providers,” she warned.
Causes of the increase included the raising of the school participation age to 18, reforms to other qualifications and the “exponential expansion of apprenticeships”, the report said.
It also said that the number of students applying for university with vocational qualifications was likely to rise further in the next few years.
“Indication from UCAS surveys of schools is that with the change to linear A levels, the withdrawal of applied A levels and the constraints of funding, more schools and colleges may offer qualifications other than A levels to a wider cohort of students,” it said.
A-levels remained the most popular and successful route into higher education, with just under two thirds (63 per cent) of UK 18-year-olds applying for degree courses last year studying for three A-levels, seen as the traditional gateway into university.
James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said: “Study programmes that combine Btec and A-level qualifications are becoming increasingly common and have proved to be a highly effective way of helping young people to progress to higher education and employment.”