By Pallavi Amitava Banerjee
Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) qualifications are seen by some as prized qualifications for the labour market which draw on work-based scenarios. Providers claim these career-based qualifications are designed to give students the skills they need to move on to higher education or go straight into employment.
Some universities offer admissions to applicants with BTEC qualifications – either stand-alone or in combination with other qualifications such as A-levels or the International Baccalaureate (IB). Entry requirements however vary across universities and also across different courses at the same university. Consequently, a growing proportion of BTEC students now take up undergraduate courses at university.
A descriptive statistical analysis of institutional admissions and progression data, carried out for the HEFCE funded project ‘Transforming Transitions’, shows BTEC students are not as successful as students with other qualifications at university.
The analysis presented here made use of demographics, progression and destination data for the full post-16 cohort by prior attainment and qualification routes (2013-2016). The key variables of background indicators such as gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic status (SES) were also explored. Destination data of students were mapped by qualification, choice of institution and programme, or employment routes.
The purpose of this analysis was to explore what proportion of BTEC students progress to higher education, and whether these proportions have changed across the years. Where available we also wanted to explore whether these students were from a similar background.
One of the key issues faced throughout this project was that data were not collected and recorded in the same format by institutions whom we had approached with a data request. Data quality varied between HEIs, between FE colleges and also between FE and HE. For example, the percentage of missing destination data was quite high (as much as 36%) for some providers.
We found that a small group of BTEC students progress to HE. When it was possible to track the destinations of leavers, students with BTEC-only qualifications were less likely to go to study at highly selective universities such as those from the Russell Group. In some institutions it was possible to check year-wise entry of BTEC students to university. There was no clear trend. For some institutions numbers have gone down, while for others HE admissions have increased by a small margin.
Exploring student backgrounds, we found that often the largest ethnic group was White (37%) and the smallest ethnic group was of Chinese students (0.4%). One FE college had 260 level 3 students during the academic years 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16: pupil background indicators showed 19% of these students had reported disability either as a difficulty or a health problem.
We did not always have access to deprivation indicators linked to individual student records. However, aggregated institutional data for 16-18 year olds, filtered on the organisation’s information management system for one of the colleges, showed 40 out of 260 students were eligible for free school meals (FSM), which was used as a proxy for socio-economic status.
One of the FE colleges with the highest HE placement rates had 88% of students (228 out of 260 students) progressing to study an undergraduate degree – and most of them had done A levels. Fewer students (12%) from this college were seeking employment elsewhere, took a gap year or considered other destinations for which information was not available/not shared.
It is interesting to note that despite being motivated to pursue a higher education degree the highest proportion of those who fail their end of first year examinations at Universities have a BTEC prior qualification.
Pallavi Amitava Banerjee is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She is an SRHE member and Senior Lecturer in Education in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Exeter