BTEC 2015 results highlight growth in students taking STEM-based vocational qualifications

Today (6 November 2015), Pearson publishes annual data for nearly a million (974,000) Level 2 (First) and Level 3 (National) BTEC qualifications taken in the last academic year.

The statistics show that there has been an overall increase on last year in students choosing to study STEM subject BTECs, a positive trend reflecting the view of government, industry and the education sector that these subjects are vital for securing the long-term economic health of the UK.

The data show a 4% y-o-y rise in students taking STEM subjects at level 3 (A level equivalent) with 5% increases in Applied Sciences and ICT and a 10.5% increase in engineering. There is a corresponding rise at level 2, (GCSE equivalent) with a 4% y-o-y rise overall, a 5% increase in Applied Science and a 5% increase in ICT.

Other headline findings from the data include:

  • Across both level 2 and 3, the five most popular subjects studied this year were Applied Science, Sport Studies, ICT, Business and Health & Social Care
  • At level 2 entries are stable compared to 2014, after a 15% decline from 2013 to 2014
  • At Level 3, entries were stable (up 0.5%) after a 10% increase from 2013 to 2014. There are now nearly 400,000 annual entries for BTEC at Level 3
  • Independent statistics from UCAS / HESA [1] show that around one in four undergraduate students now enter university having studied at least one BTEC as part of their school and college education.

BTECs play an important role in widening participation in higher education: 40% of students entering university with a BTEC come from lower socio-economic backgrounds, compared to only 20% of A Level students. Once at university, Pearson data [2] shows BTEC students perform well with almost 90% BTEC of students going on to receive a 1st or 2nd class degree.

Vocational qualifications are becoming increasingly attractive to employers particularly as they encourage students to develop real-life, 21st century skills such as problem-solving and team work. They also play an important role in promoting social mobility. Our own research finds businesses either prefer new recruits to hold a mix of both academic and vocational qualifications, or value academic and vocational qualifications equally. Perhaps that’s why more students now go to university with a BTEC than ever before.

Rod Bristow, President of Pearson’s UK business

STEM subjects on the increase

This year’s BTEC data shows that STEM subjects are more popular amongst male students yet female students consistently receive the stronger grades:

  • 2,177 females studied Engineering across BTEC National and First levels combined, compared to 41,511 males
  • However female performance was markedly higher: 37% achieved a Distinction* (the highest grade) in level 3 vs. 22% of males
  • 72,811 males studied ICT vs. 26,006 females at level 2/3, but 45% of females achieved a Distinction* at National level, vs. 33% of males
  • 101,745 females vs. 109,640 males studied Science. Here, 33% of females secured a Distinction* at National level, vs. 19% of males.

It’s exciting to see a strong interest in STEM, with a great performance from female students. The UK needs more female scientists, engineers and technicians. Hopefully these results will encourage more women to study these subjects as well as translate into a pipeline of talented women preparing for a career in industry.

More broadly, we know from first hand experience through our research with the CBI that STEM subjects are important for safeguarding the UK’s future global growth and competitiveness. It’s great therefore to see students really taking into account their future career paths when making subject choices.

Rod Bristow, President of Pearson’s UK business

Today's annual BTEC results are published following a 2015 Pearson/CBI Education and Skills Survey [3] that found UK businesses face widespread difficulties in recruiting staff with the necessary STEM skills. The findings show 52% of firms surveyed are experiencing a shortfall of experienced staff in this area. As a result, STEM study carries a real premium with 40% of employers preferring new job seekers to have STEM skills.

Pearson is the first awarding body to publish the achievements of students in schools and colleges studying a major vocational qualification. We are committed to the annual publication of these statistics.

Results data


[1] UCAS data on entry to HE – 2014 End of Cycle Report / Hesa data, 2012
[2] Pearson analysis of internal data for BTEC and Pearson A-level students who started a degree course in 2008/09 and completed in 2012
[3] Skills emergency could 'starve growth' - CBI/Pearson survey