Page last updated at 14:16 GMT, Friday, 28 August 2009 15:16 UK

Diplomas 'should be accepted'

Universities should accept Diplomas, says Professor Halstead

This week a report suggested that many universities would prefer applicants to have A-levels rather than the new Diploma qualification. There have also been warnings that fewer than expected pupils are taking Diplomas.

But Aston University's pro-vice-chancellor, Alison Halstead, says Diplomas should be given a chance, particularly when the lack of jobs is encouraging more young people to stay on at school.

Earlier this week there were reports of uncertainty from some universities about the Diploma - the new qualification for 14 to 19 year olds that combines academic and practical, work-based learning.

Of course, it is inevitable that some people will approach new qualifications with caution. But in the week when thousands of students are collecting their GCSE results and wondering which education or employment path to take next, the Diploma has never been a more relevant and more necessary qualification for young people.

According to a survey, one in five young people have changed their minds about searching for a job after their GCSEs, and will now stay on in education or training. This means that even more youngsters, with their diverse mix of talents and interests, will look for qualifications in September that excite them and give them the motivation to succeed.

After putting previous generations of school children through an education system with limited choice of qualifications, the widening of options available to young people between 14 and 19 - including the Diploma, apprenticeships and GCSEs and A levels - is a long-awaited acknowledgement that that young people are motivated by different things, and they learn in different ways.

Take the Diploma, for example. The qualification combines a mix of learning styles in a way that no other qualification has done before it. Diploma students will spend some of their time in the classroom, building up a robust and rigorous knowledge of their subject, but they will also spend time in work-related learning, and develop their creative and problem solving skills.

Diploma students have said that learning in the context of real life is motivating and engaging. This kind of education helps to build important skills that will be vital throughout their lives and it can provide a huge boost to a student's self-confidence to work alongside professionals who take their views and work seriously. In the current climate, it's impossible to deny how important these skills are for those leaving education today.

Our admissions policy at Aston University reflects my high opinion of the Diploma. We are accepting applications from all of the relevant Advanced Diploma subjects for our courses, including engineering and business programmes. I firmly believe that Diploma students will add to the strength of our graduates and go on to become future leaders in industry and commerce.

Now more than ever, young people need to stay in education so they leave with the skills and self-confidence to flourish in whatever they do next. Time and again we hear employers and universities calling for young people to leave school or college better equipped for the world of work or higher education. If we can really excite and inspire young people through education, they are more likely to achieve highly at school and college, stay in education for longer, and have the motivation to continue succeeding later on in life.

We have a responsibility to make sure young people know about the options that are available to them. Education for 14 to 19 year olds has changed for the better, and it's crucial that GCSE students collecting their results know how to take advantage of it.

Professor Alison Halstead is Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Learning and Teaching Innovation at Aston University.

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