The Rising Cost of University Education

Are apprenticeships the financially savvy choice for underrepresented groups?

By James Burbidge · 10th May 2023

University education has long been considered a stepping stone to success, but the ever-increasing costs associated with it, alongside the cost-of-living crisis is becoming a growing concern. Research shows that the price of going to university is on the rise, with students on average losing nearly £50,000 between tuition fees, accommodation, living expense and other maintenance costs. There has also been changes to student finance, where new students starting in September 2023 will be put on ‘Plan 5’ loans. This will lead to many paying back double what they would’ve done on the old system.

Most new English starters will pay far more for their degrees over their lifetime than their predecessors. The decision to extend repayments to 40 years, combined with the other measures, will leave many who start university straight after school still repaying it into their 60s. In effect these changes effectively complete the transformation of student 'loans', for most, into a working-life-long graduate tax for those who earn enough to pay it. The vast majority of those who go to university will pay the equivalent of 9% extra tax above a threshold, for up to forty years to pay for their education. Yet the increase in likely cost for many is certainly a reason for you to understand how the finances work, and to examine whether University is the right choice (or could an apprenticeship or another option be better?).

Martin Lewis, Money Saving Expert Founder

This has led many to question whether pursuing a degree is still a financially viable option, especially when compared to entry-level apprenticeships that offer earning potential and valuable skills in the same time frame. We propose that apprenticeships can be a great alternative for young people, particularly those from underrepresented groups, who may face additional financial challenges.

New research reveals that participating in an apprenticeship has had a positive impact on people’s careers with nearly 4 in 5 (83%) of apprentices surveyed say they would recommend doing an apprenticeship to others. In fact, three-quarters (71%) of people who have studied or are currently studying an apprenticeship say the experience has enabled them to pursue their dream career. The main benefits apprentices stated were the ability of earning whilst learning (46%), as well as gaining real world experience (38%).

This reflects the positive trends in Coach Core’s data from our apprentices, where the young people we are supporting are reporting:

  • 89% believe their apprenticeship helped their career.
  • 79% have been promoted or taken on additional responsibilities.
  • 74% are now earning a higher salary

The Escalating Costs of University Education

The cost of university education has surged over the past decade, outpacing inflation rates and putting a significant financial burden on students. Tuition fees have skyrocketed, making it increasingly difficult for students to afford the cost of higher education. In addition to tuition fees, the cost of living, including accommodation, food, and other expenses, has also increased, further adding to the financial strain. Research reveals that the average student can accumulate a debt of almost £50,000 between tuition and maintenance costs, which can have long-term consequences on their financial well-being.

For young people from underrepresented groups, there may already be several barriers to attending university including cultural or social factors, academic preparedness, or discrimination. The significant financial challenges of pursuing a university education can be even more daunting. These costs are not only their own barrier, but they also exacerbate the other challenges for students from low-income backgrounds, ethnic minority groups, and other marginalized communities. This has the effect of potentially limiting the opportunities for these students to pursue their desired careers and achieve financial success.

The Benefits of Entry-Level Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships, and in particular, entry-level apprenticeships, offer an alternative option that can be financially advantageous, especially for young people from underrepresented groups. Apprenticeships provide educational qualifications at equivalent levels from GCSE up to Masters degree, and they do it whilst paying the apprentice a wage. Over the course of three to four years, apprentices can potentially earn a cumulative income of almost £50,000 (the potential cost that to go to university), providing them with a strong financial foundation and potentially greater financial independence.

In addition to the financial benefits, apprenticeships can offer other advantages for young people from underrepresented groups. The on-the-job training (combined with formal education) means the apprentice gets hands-on experience that can make them extremely valuable in the job market compared to new university graduates. Apprentices also have the opportunity to develop a network of professional connections, which can be beneficial for their future career prospects.

Overcoming Stigma and Misconceptions

Despite the numerous benefits, apprenticeships may still face stigma and misconceptions compared to traditional university education. Some may view apprenticeships as a lesser option, associating them only with manual labour or lower-paying jobs. However, this perception is outdated and does not reflect the wide range of apprenticeships available in various fields, including business, technology, healthcare, marketing, etc. Additionally, there are many pathways through sequential apprenticeships so that a young person can start on an entry-level one, and gain their GCSE equivalent qualifications and then progress onto another apprenticeship and so on until they reach Masters level if they wish.

It’s worth noting that pursuing a university education can offer benefits beyond just financial gains. University degrees may be required or preferred for certain careers or industries, and can provide individuals with a broader range of skills and knowledge. Additionally, the value of a university education extends beyond just monetary gains, including personal growth, networking opportunities, and access to resources and connections that can contribute to long-term success. However, it’s crucial for individuals to carefully consider the return on investment in terms of both financial costs and potential career opportunities.


The rising cost of university education has become a pressing issue, particularly for young people from underrepresented groups who may face additional financial challenges. Apprenticeships offer a viable alternative. If you want to find out more about the apprenticeships in sports coaching that we can support young people and employers with, please get in touch using the form below.

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