26% of English university entrants now have a Btec qualification, according to a Ucas study. The figure includes both those who study the Btec on its own or in combination with A-Levels. The statistic constitutes a huge ongoing increase, with numbers of students enrolled on Btecs doubling in the past 7 years from 14% in 2008.
Btecs were developed to enhance and reinforce learning, focusing on technical knowledge to create a skilled labour force. Btec qualifications can be gained in a range of subjects, from business studies and engineering to media production. They differ from traditional GCSEs and A-Levels in that alongside written testing, observation of ability, practical and oral testing are equally emphasised.
These vocational qualifications are awarded the same Ucas tariff points as A-Levels and are widely accepted by Universities with the exception of Cambridge and Oxford, who require additional A-Levels.
Nonetheless, a stigma remains around the Btec as a less stringent test, with “easier” content. Furthermore, a recent study by the Higher Education Academy suggested that Btec qualified students often achieved a lower overall grade upon graduating.
However, Ucas argue that Btec students often benefit from a higher level of subject knowledge than their counterparts who only studied traditional A-levels and focused on coursework based assessment, exam revision and technique over detailed knowledge.
Many students at UEA who took one or more Btec qualifications believe they felt more prepared for university.
However, students acknowledge they experience a different route into higher education: one anonymous second year student stated they felt they were “out of practise studying” for traditional exams, while other students felt that they benefitted from gaining a greater subject insight.
Maria, a second year Literature student states she felt able to “work more productively towards graded work,” as well as learning to “discipline myself for independent research”.
Similarly, Liam, a first year International Relations student, states the Btec was beneficial in terms of “gathering information… as opposed to being told what to write”.
The National Union of Students includes Btecs in a vocational category of study on their website, grouping them with similar qualifications such as NVQs and diplomas. Level 3 Btecs are A-Level equaivalent whereas Level 2 are parallel to an A*-C at GCSE.
They describe the course as “designed to allow you to learn in a way that suits you. Btecs cover a wider range of subjects – offering different skills and incorporating more practical experiences that make students more employable”.
These new figures represent a need for universities to be aware of and support students with different qualifications to traditional GCSEs and A-Levels. Traditional qualifications and routes into higher education are becoming less the norm. Such statistics also represent an increasing level of acceptance of Btec qualifications at univeristies across England.