A Literature Review of the Value of Vocational Qualifications

Sarah Lynch, David Sims, Karen Wespieser

10 June 2015

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) commissioned NFER to carry out a small-scale rapid literature review of the value of vocational qualifications offered in the UK by JCQ members. The review was carried out February-April 2015 and sought to answer the following questions: (1) How is the value of vocational qualifications defined? (2) What is the reported value of vocational qualifications (e.g. benefits for the individual learner, business, and the economy)? (3) Are there gaps in the research on the value of vocational qualifications, and if so, what further information would be useful to have for policy and practice?

Following a systematic search of databases and websites, the project team scrutinised 73 texts making an independent ‘best evidence’ selection of 16 to be reviewed, based on relevance to the research questions and the quality of the evidence. The reviewed texts focused on young people aged 14-25 and were published in English in the United Kingdom from the year 2009.

Key Findings

The literature review identified benefits for all stakeholders in young people taking vocational qualifications:

  • Learners: increased likelihood of being in employment and a significant wage return for all levels and most types of vocational qualifications. Increased access to higher education for the poorest learners.
  • Businesses: increased productivity and a more skilled workforce.
  • Economy/Exchequer: a positive financial return for most qualifications, with particularly high returns associated with Level 3. A reduction in benefit dependency and increase in income tax.
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