Vocational Training Offers Alternative to University Degrees; with University Places Scarcer Than Ever and Tuition Fees Set to Treble in 12 Months' Time, Apprenticeships Could Prove an Attractive Alternative to Higher Education for School Leavers. Education Correspondent Kat Keogh Reports

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Byline: Kat Keogh

Following the fanfare of GCSE results announced this week, school leavers will be faced with hard decisions about what to do next.

Nearly one in four GCSE entries have been awarded at least an A grade, but experts have warned that many students could be compelled to drop out of education altogether.

Cuts to careers advice services, increased university tuition fees and the decision to scrap the weekly Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) mean school leavers are facing "an enormously tough time", according to Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL).

He said: "They are facing fears about unemployment, they are aware of cuts, and changes to university arrangements.

"Finding a way through that to an informed decision is incredibly difficult. We want, and need, young people to be staying in education, I hope they are encouraged by the good results I'm sure they will get, and want to stay in education, and that we can reassure them that it's worthwhile."

Higher education is still an attractive option for youngsters, with a record 684,649 students applied for university places this year.

But it remains to be seen whether university will be as popular with the GCSE class of 2011, who can expect to pay tuition fees of up to pounds 9,000 by the time they reach university.

Apprenticeships could provide an alternative for those who feel priced out of higher education, according to Kevin Hayes, chief executive of Birmingham youth training agency Enta, which helps youngsters gain skills and qualifications ready for college, an apprenticeship or a job. …