COLUMN: Higher education is easier to access than ever before

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As somebody who grew up in this area in the 1980s, I felt there were limited choices for employment and continuing education at the age of 18.

Job opportunities were dominated by factory work or coal mining, and most felt a university education was only for the most affluent minority.

Fortunately, times have changed.

Our young people now have a wealth of opportunities from going to university, getting an apprenticeship, or travelling the world working for a multi-national company.

Yet even though our horizons have broadened, just 44.1 per cent of people in Mansfield continue their studies up to and beyond NVQ level three or A-levels, compared with 56.9 per cent nationally.

In Ashfield, the figure is lower still, at just 43.1 per cent.

Do we fear higher levels of education or believe we don’t need it, because our parents and friends “have done just fine”?

We should never settle for ‘fine’ when we can 

According to the D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership, one-third of professional and technical job vacancies are affected by skills shortage, with employers finding it difficult to attract the high-level skills they need to grow.

The link between qualifications and wages is well known – so why limit ourselves to earning less than we potentially could?

Coming from Mansfield and making those choices myself, I believed university-level study was for ‘real academics’.

However, working in the sector has transformed my view.

We have nothing to fear from higher education.

We are supported, encouraged, and can study whatever we choose – things we are excited about, that can help us make change to our lives.

Rather than settle for a job, higher education and professional courses enable us to pursue a career.

Locally, there has never been a greater choice.

We are surrounded by renowned universities and, in the college’s new state-of- the-art Vision University Centre, there is now a high-quality alternative on our doorsteps.

Instead of traditional academic courses, it offers vocationally-focussed subjects centred on industry sectors that need higher-level skills.

It means people wanting to study at degree-level, gain professional qualifications, or return to education after a break of several years, can do so with confidence, right here in Mansfield.