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University is first choice for 72% of school and college students

08 / 06 / 2023Gemma Woods

New research published by GTI's market research consultancy Cibyl, exploring the education and career aspirations of almost 12,000 (11,720) students aged 12-to-18 from schools and colleges across the UK, has found that over seven in ten plan to go to university. Only one in ten are considering an apprenticeship. The survey, run annually by market research consultancy Cibyl, is the largest survey of school-leavers in the UK.

The top three reasons students provide for choosing university over an apprenticeship are: to study the subject they were interested in; to keep their options open; and the appeal of the university lifestyle.

There is also a  mismatch between the career aspirations of students and what the UK economy needs.

  • Interest in science/R&D careers has fallen by four percentage points over the last five years;
  • Interest in tech careers only increased by two percentage points over the same period; and
  • 25 percent of students say they want to work in the public sector, but only 18% of the workforce are employed in the public sector[i].

Likewise, student interest in apprenticeships doesn’t match the level of roles available from employers. Of the 10% of students interested in apprenticeships, four in five are interested in higher or degree apprenticeships. 80 per cent now say they are interested in higher or degree apprenticeships, up from 68% over the last three years, whilst interest in advanced or intermediate apprenticeships is falling, down from 32% to 20% over the same period. However, the majority of apprenticeships offered by employers (69%) are at the advanced or intermediate levels. Apprenticeships also appeal more to males than females.

The research suggests that careers advice within schools and colleges could be improved. 34% of students said they didn’t know enough about apprenticeships. Parents typically have the strongest influence over students’ career thinking, except for students from low socio-economic backgrounds, LGBTQ+ and disabled students, for whom the teacher influence is stronger.

The survey also shows that students are leaving their career thinking until later. In 2020, 60% had decided their career plans before year 11; in 2023, 70% left plans to year 11 or later. Only one percent of students are confident in their commercial awareness skills, which suggests a lack of understanding about the world of work.

Simon Martin, CEO of Group GTI, said: "There is clearly a mismatch between school and college students' stated career ambitions and the opportunities presented. Government, schools and employers all need to work together to improve the information and advice available to students."


[i] UK Labour Market Statistics, House of Commons Library, May 2023



About the research

11,720 students aged 12-to-18, from over 2,000 schools and colleges across the UK, participated in an online questionnaire between January and March 2023. 49% of respondents studied in local authority maintained schools or colleges, 42% in academies, and 9% in the independent sector. 50% of respondents identified as female, 46% male and 4% other.

Cibyl (part of Group GTI) is a leading student market research consultancy covering the UK and Ireland. Cibyl provides employers, universities, professional bodies and researchers with unparalleled insights into students’ career thinking. The annual Cibyl graduate research surveys are the most comprehensive of their kind.

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