As concerns over access to university places plus the threat of even higher student debt for graduates hit the headlines in the wake of proposed changes to be made by the new coalition government, A level students are facing not only the pressures of their examinations but also an uncertain future.
Mark Protherough, Executive Director, Learning & Professional Development, ICAEW, comments: The emphasis on further and higher education over the last few years has led many young people to believe that university is the only route to success.
Recent estimates are indicating that the cuts of £200m to the university budget will mean 10,000 fewer extra places. According to admissions service UCAS, there will be at least 200,000 applicants who will not end up with a place. In addition, research by organisations such as Endsleigh Insurance and CallCredit indicate that the average student now expects to owe between £15,000 and £20,000.
But the ICAEW is stressing that not going to university doesn't mean your life is over, nor does it mean you can't be successful. There are good opportunities for all those school leavers who think they may struggle to find a university place this year or who have made the decision that starting life with huge debts is not the way they wish to proceed.
No matter what a young person's area of skill and expertise: communication, maths, English or problem solving - there will be a route to suit. Two good A level results this summer, a minimum of 260 UCAS points or at least 3 GCSE levels A-C (including an A/B in Maths and English) will mean he or she is able to start a top accountancy qualification straight from school in an accountancy apprenticeship.
Mark Protherough says: Most employers will prefer trainees to complete something like the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT). The AAT allows them to fast track into chartered accountancy and means a trainee can complete both the AAT and the ACA within as little as four years that's quicker than the university graduate route and leaves the trainee without any substantial debt it's earn as you learn.
If an apprenticeship straight after GCSEs is not what appeals, there are many opportunities to start accountancy training at different times with courses available from the point of A-levels or post formal education.
One new qualification is CFAB the Certificate in Finance, Accounting and Business, introduced for anyone wishing to develop a general knowledge in finance, accounting and business fundamentals and who may or may not wish to progress on to the full ACA. No previous academic qualifications are required and the certificate is offered through a flexible course structure and computer based assessments which can be taken at a time that is convenient.
This could be ideal for those still unsure about university who, while they consider their options, could gain a meaningful qualification which would offer them the chance of choosing to go into full chartered accountancy training at a later date.
Mark Protherough adds: The non-graduate paths will ensure that a professional accountancy qualification is available to all potential candidates, irrespective of their background or schooling. Entry into professions like accountancy is a major driver of social mobility in the UK, according to last year's report from former minister Alan Milburn.
The ICAEW has been working with the previous and incoming governments to tackle the barriers for those from disadvantaged backgrounds wanting to get into accountancy. This won't just make access to the profession fairer; it will also help boost the UK's competitiveness by ensuring we can make the most of talent from across the whole spectrum of society.
The ICAEW however acknowledges that the university route will always be attractive for some candidates it offers the opportunity of personal development, the time and environment in which to study subjects in depth and at a higher level and not least an excellent social life.
And for those graduates who are looking for their next move? With 2010 S final-year undergraduates confidence in the graduate job recruitment market at a 15-year low, according to research by High Fliers, now might be the time for them to consider topping up skills with additional qualifications like CFAB to ensure they stand out in a very crowded marketplace.
For further details on all aspects of training as a chartered accountant and details of the CFAB qualification visit www.icaew.com/careers