Report on experience of students with vocational qualifications

02 October 2008

Responding to the publication of the HEPI report, ‘The academic experience and outcomes of students with vocational level 3 qualifications’, Director General of the Russell Group, Dr Wendy Piatt said:

“We welcome the conclusion of the most recent Hepi report that accurate advice about qualifications and skills is essential for school students to ensure that they do not limit their study and career options at a later stage.

”This report finds that students with vocational qualifications have – on the whole - lower retention and degree success rates than those who with an academic grounding. But Russell Group universities want to ensure that students who may not have the required academic qualifications have an opportunity to pursue their chosen course. That is why our universities offer an array of foundation year courses, which allow students who don't have ‘conventional’ qualifications to do an extra year at the beginning of their course to help them catch up with fellow students with conventional qualifications. The foundation year is just one example of the huge range of widening participation programmes and flexible entry routes at our universities.

“Hepi’s previous report in 2007 found that when prior attainment is taken into account, students with vocational qualifications are not underrepresented in higher education.  This update highlights some key factors that account for the relatively lower proportion of students with vocational qualifications at ‘old’ universities. For example, the use of tariff scores inflates the number of potentially qualified applicants, as some pupils may not have the type of qualifications required for their chosen course. Also students do not always have the necessary subject combination for particular areas of study.

“Russell Group universities now post ‘entry profiles’ on the UCAS website, with detailed advice and guidance to learners on the types of qualifications best suited to succeed on one of their courses. However it is teachers and schools who are best placed to advise young people on their future studies, which is part of the reason why The Russell Group has decided to hold special conferences to inform teachers and advisors about key aspects of our universities. It is essential to ensure that students make informed choices about their subject choices and apply to the universities which are best for them.”

Notes to Editors

  1. The report, ‘The academic experience and outcomes of students with vocational level 3 qualifications’ is available from
  2. Paragraph 32 of the report summary states “some of the degree programmes at selective universities may not be suitable for students without academic grounding […which] suggests that good careers and academic advice is essential for students post-GCSE as they are deciding what to do at level 3. Wrong choices at this stage may rule out certain options later.”
  3. This report looks in more detail at the findings of the 2007 report that concluded that “students from vocational backgrounds as a whole were not underrepresented in higher education when their prior educational achievement was taken into account.”

Related case studies