IBCP or BTEC? The Vocational Route to University

Are you looking for the best curriculum to prepare yourself for a top university place or your chosen career path? Do you want to choose a college education that combines vocational and academic learning? Here’s everything you need to know about the IBCP and BTEC programmes, including where to study them in Singapore.
IBCP or BTEC? The Vocational Route to University
By Carli Allan
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As the time comes to finalise sixth form and college applications, have you considered a vocational post-16 course for your teenager? While the majority of international schools will offer the more traditional choice of A Levels, the US-based Advanced Placement (AP) programme, and the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP), a vocational qualification may suit students who know from an early age that they want to focus on a specific career path.

One such option is the IBCP – an alternative to the IBDP that’s specifically developed for students who want to focus on career-related learning. It is an extension of the UK's BTEC, and can lead to university, apprenticeships or employment. Another is the BTEC (Business and Technology Education Council), which is a UK-based specialist, work-related qualification in subjects including Business, Art & Design, Performing Arts or Sport.

Set aside any misconceptions that these courses are an easier or inferior alternative to more traditional and academic college courses. While both qualifications may be less academic, they are technically rigorous, and require both skill and practical knowledge.

With more than 95% of UK universities accepting BTEC or IBCP for entry, these high-level courses are clearly a well-established pathway into university. Even more than that, and with 33% of UK job vacancies considered to be hard to fill and therefore “skill shortage vacancies”, clearly there are many industries and lines of work where employers will value skills just as highly as academic qualifications.

Where can I study the IBCP?

Today, 214 schools in 23 countries now offer the IBCP; in Singapore, there are just two schools authorised by the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) to offer the IBCP, including GEMS World Academy (Singapore) and School of the Arts, Singapore (SOTA).

Annual tuition fees for the IBCP are the same or only slightly cheaper than the IBDP, ranging from $33,000 at SOTA (for foreign, non-ASEAN students) to $40,277 at GEMS World Academy (Singapore).

In Singapore, both GEMS and SOTA offer the IBCP in partnership with an external study provider.

GEMS offers students two pathways:

Aeronautics, Aeronautical Engineering and Aviation Business Administration programme in partnership with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Students study freshman year courses in the fields of aeronautics, aeronautical engineering and aviation business administration with Embry Riddle, while completing their high school diploma (with IB Certification) at GEMS. Students with credit passes in sufficient courses will be able to join Embry-Riddle as a sophomore.

Art and Design programme in partnership with Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).
Students complete their high school diploma (with IB Certification) at GEMS while taking up to six university credits from a choice of fashion, architecture, fine art and graphic design; tuition is given online by SCAD faculty.

GEMS has a Design Centre equipped with hammers, saws, laser cutters, pottery wheels, 3D printers, forges, robotics kits and sewing machines; this makerspace takes students out of a typical classroom environment to study the IB’s Career-Related Programme in the arts, when they can focus on anything from animation to fashion design. As GEMS says, this course is ideal for anyone wanting a career as an architect, film director, illustrator, sound engineer or graphic designer.

“Students are provided with an opportunity to specialise in Grade 11, spending up to 70% of their time working in their field of choice. By blurring the lines between the school and universities, we provide our students with an exciting opportunity to combine academic study with career-related practice, helping to broaden their horizons and excel building on their passions.”

SOTA, a specialist arts school, offers an Art and Design programme focused on specialised training in dance, film, literary arts, music, theatre and visual arts. At SOTA, IBCP students also choose two or three diploma programme subjects at higher or standard level that complement their career-related study. For example, a student opting for the SCAD course in Art and Design may choose IB English literature and film studies. These IB subjects ‘count’ in the same way as IBDP courses when applying for university places.

Other elements of the IBCP include a language, with options including Chinese, French, Hindi and Spanish, and service activities that are very similar to the Creativity, Action and Service part of the IBDP.

Read more: Where to study the IBCP in Singapore.

Where can I study a BTEC programme?

BTECs are offered at only two international schools and a small number of training colleges and private institutions in Singapore, including TEG International College and the SSTC Institute. There are over 2,000 BTEC qualifications across 16 sectors and available from entry level through to professional qualifications at level 7 (equivalent to postgraduate study). Level 3 is equivalent to A Levels and, like the IBCP, is designed for people interested in a particular sector or industry.

Dover Court International School (DCIS) offers the BTEC International Level 1 and Level 2 in Business qualifications. These two-year post-16 vocational qualifications are a full-time programme. As part of the BTEC International Diploma in Business, students complete four mandatory units worth five credits each: Business Purposes, Business Organisations, Financial Forecasting for Business and People in Organisations. Students then complete a further 40 credits from a range of options including Verbal and Non-verbal Communication in Business Contexts and Customer Relations in Business. Students also complete work experience and participate in CAS (Creativity, Activity & Service) alongside other DCIS’ IBDP students.

Dover Court’s Business BTEC teacher Laura Pattie says:

“Our students cover a range of different subjects from marketing to finance, and HR to information technology systems. As an example of what to expect, in Unit 1 of the Level 2 course we look at business environment: how do businesses start, what kind of ownerships do they have, where do they get finance from etc.”

Stamford American International School offers a Business & Technical Education Council (BTEC) International Level 3 for students in Grades 11-12, and is the only school in Singapore to offer students the opportunity to graduate with a US high school diploma and a BTEC qualification.

How is the delivery and teaching a more vocational pathway such as the IBCP and BTEC different to that of A-Levels or the IBDP?

It can be argued that IBCP and BTEC students have a definite advantage over their peers as they will develop a unique set of career-readiness skills, attitudes, and perspectives needed to succeed at university and life beyond.

Sean McAuley, Secondary Years Deputy Principal and University Guidance Counsellor at GEMS World Academy (Singapore) says:

“The IBCP is a graduation pathway for students who are clear about their ambitions and who have strengths in particular areas. This unique educational opportunity provides the best of both worlds. A practical, university-accredited course combined with the academic rigour of the IBDP. By undertaking university credit courses at High School, our students are working (up to) two years ahead of their peers in terms of their academic studies.

"The IBCP gives students a taste of university coursework while they are still enjoying the safe confines of the high school environment. Students receive high-quality IB education from the GEMS educators as well as university-level tuition and support from the very best professors from the Savannah College of Art and Design and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.”

Why should I study the IBCP or a BTEC?

The IBCP and BTEC cohorts at these schools are significantly smaller than the number of students taking the IBDP. So, why should students consider taking the IBCP or BTEC, rather than the more established IBDP or A Levels?

Here are five reasons to consider:

  • it gives you opportunities to access further education, apprenticeships and employment in the arts, hospitality, business and IT
  • it combines academic and practical learning
  • the reflective project develops research skills and independent learning
  • you can focus on the career path you have in mind
  • the service learning and language development courses develop global and cultural awareness

Sean McAuley, Secondary Years Deputy Principal and University Guidance Counsellor at GEMS World Academy (Singapore) says that the IBCP offers students the opportunity to specialise in their field of choice and get used to a university environment.

He explains:

“While the rigorous IBDP and A-levels are seen as the most preferred and traditional routes to a university, the IBCP draws on the academic rigour in combination with career-related study and real-world experience. The program is tailored to students' interests and strengths, encouraging self-confidence and fostering enjoyment in learning.

“It is a way for students to get a head start in university and develop abilities that every university admissions officer and employer wants to see. The most significant advantage of the program is that it allows high-school students to accumulate university credits and potentially graduate early.”

At 16 years, many students already have a clear idea of the career they would like to pursue and are looking for hands-on learning and experience in that field. The IBCP is perfect for academically strong and independent students who know from an early age that they want to focus on a specific career path. Students need to be highly motivated and disciplined, as they are taking rigorous university-level classes in addition to their regular IB courses.

Grade 12 student Shaquille is half-way through his IBCP studies at GEMS World Academy (Singapore). He hopes to qualify as a pilot in the United States Navy.

"I have tailored my pathway around my career choice and the subjects I need to go on to study at university and become a pilot," says Shaquille.

"Apart from the fact that I study what I am passionate about, I also have an opportunity to develop valuable skills, learn from university professors and earn credits for a whole year of university-level courses in the field of aeronautics. The IBCP is not only a very rigorous program, but it also requires students to be more engaged and committed to their education.

"This programme has helped me to become more independent and focused on my goals. It also taught me how to effectively manage the study of four IBDP courses at a higher level, university-level courses in the field of aeronautics and service-learning activities along with various extracurricular activities and personal time. This programme is perfect for someone ambitious and willing to develop real-life skills that allow them to shine at university and in a modern world of work."

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