Are technical design courses an alternative to university?

The Government recently announced it will roll out creative and design T-levels in 2021, vocational alternatives to A-levels, which include three-month work placements and focus on practical skills. Industry experts share their thoughts on whether this could be a feasible route into design.

Vicky Bullen, CEO, Coley Porter Bell

“Overall, I think vocational qualifications are a good thing for two reasons. Firstly, our education system needs to recognise that not all brains learn in the same way. The introduction of a more vocational approach to A levels in the form of T levels should be welcomed to accommodate different learning styles – and should play well to many young creative brains. However, what is critical is that the vocational T levels are seen as being equivalent to A levels, and are not presented as a replacement for them – rather as a choice to accommodate those different learning styles.

Secondly, a more vocational approach to design education could also be the answer to the lack of preparedness that design employers see in graduates for the commercial world. A vocational approach should give those graduates a better understanding of the world of work and enable them to make the transition from education to employment more smoothly – that in turn makes them more employable.”


Caroline Julian, head of policy and public affairs, Creative Industries Federation

“Vocational training is as vital to the creative industries as academic education. So, in principle, we welcome T levels as the technical equivalent to A levels. However, having seen the Government’s response to the T level consultation, I am concerned about the capacity of creative businesses, the majority of which are micro businesses, to carry out work placements. This is the same concern the creative industries face with the apprenticeship scheme, and Government should look to learn the lessons from this to make sure the creative industries can benefit from the next generation of talent.”


Deborah Dawton, CEO, Design Business Association

“The design industry is made up of people from a variety of career routes. To grow diversity in the sector, it’s important to look at how we continue to make design more accessible and T-levels may be one option.

The complexity of challenges the industry addresses are far-reaching and we need people with acuity of mind and vision, as well as technical skills, to approach the scale of these as they continue to become more complex than ever before. T-levels and the wider education system needs to be positioned correctly to deliver this.”


What are your thoughts on vocational alternatives to academic routes into design? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • John Whalvin June 28, 2018 at 9:41 am

    T-Levels sound a great idea as an alternative to A Levels but how far from say a Graphic Design Btec with a work placement is it? Wasn’t the idea of the HND / HNC back in the 90s to be a vocational alternative to a degree, it does all sound great as long as it’s new and not just the old repackaged

  • Carl St. James June 28, 2018 at 3:56 pm

    The government needs to do more to support technical subjects pre-16.

    Schools are currently only judged on the E-Bacc subjects (English, Maths, Science, Computer Science, a language, history and geography) and progress in those areas.

    With creative subjects not counting towards these areas, they are becoming marginalised or struck off the timetable entirely.

    There needs to be a push at KS3 and 4 alongside the T-level program along with clear links to post-16 education.

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