Why UAE Students Choose BTEC and the IB CP

Many UAE schools are offering the option of post-16 vocational qualifications for students to develop hands-on career-related skills and experiences while achieving the qualifications required for entry into top universities. While previously selected by only a small number of UAE students, BTEC, as an A-Level alternative in UK curriculum schools, is becoming increasingly popular. Likewise, the IB Career-related Program (CP), is starting to make headway as an alternative to the IB DP in some Dubai schools.

Understanding BTEC

BTEC stands for Business and Technology Education Council. The BTEC Extended Diploma qualification represents a vocational alternative to A Levels or IB (whereas BTEC First courses are equivalent to GCSEs). BTEC qualifications can be studied as double awards (equivalent to 2 A Levels) or triple awards (equivalent to 3 A Levels). Students may also choose to study for an A Level qualification to complement their BTEC studies and attract a higher UCAS point score.

BTEC courses are career-focused qualifications that aim to provide experience of the workplace. BTEC learners will typically take part in projects that allow them to develop the skills and behaviors needed in professional environments, as well as knowledge relating to their chosen career path.

Understanding the IB CP

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Career-related Program (CP) is targeted at students who want to follow a specific vocational route. It is comprised of a three-part educational framework, consisting of courses from the IB’s Diploma Program (DP), the CP core (which provides the context for these) and career-related studies, which the IB does not directly provide itself. The career-related studies element is carried out via partner awarding bodies, with BTEC often utilised for this.

Meet the students…

We spoke to 3 students from UAE schools, currently undertaking these courses, to understand the reasons young people may opt for these pathways, and how they feel these courses are benefitting them.

Soneni Banda

Soneni Banda is a Year 13 student at GEMS Wellington Academy Silicon Oasis (Dubai). She is studying BTEC Sport and A Level Business. Soneni has a clear vision for her future in hospitality and has found BTEC in particular to be a great fit for her.

“For a long time now, I’ve wanted to go into hospitality, and with my love of sports, I’m aiming ideally for a future in sports event management.

I do a lot of sports competitions and go to lot of sports events, like Formula 1, FIFA World Cup, that’s really a main interest for me. I plan to study either a Bachelor’s Degree in International Hospitality and Business Management, or just International Hospitality and Business. That would be a four-year course and then in the last year, students choose a specialism, this is when I’d aim to go into sports events.”

Daria Haider

Daria Haider is a Year 12 student at GEMS FirstPoint School. She is studying BTEC International Specialist Award investigating digital marketing, as well as A-Levels in Business, Maths and Economics.

“I’m very interested in international business and economics. My father is an entrepreneur and I always talk to him about my studies and ideas. He has encouraged me with this career path, and it’s become a big interest for me since I was quite young.

I’d like to open my own consultancy firm someday. That way, I could use all the skills I’ve learned, not just marketing, not just finance, it would be a wide range of services that I could offer.”

Sidhant Pabreja

Sidhant Pabreja is a Grade 12 student at Emirates International School Jumeirah. He is studying the IB CP (International Baccalaureate Career-related Program), within which he is doing a BTEC Level 3 Diploma in Business. Sidhant is also taking part in a 12 week multi-department internship program in Al Habtoor Group’s Hospitality Division (a benefit of attending an Al Habtoor Group owned school).

“I’m interested in pursuing a career in the fields of digital marketing and logistics. Everything in our current generation is digital, and every business needs marketing of some sort. This is a field that is future-proof, it’s not going to be finished in the next five or 10 years like a lot of other fields of work. Likewise, every country needs logistics of some sort, so I feel I can count on these fields the most for my own career.”

Why choose a vocational pathway for post-16 study?

We asked Soneni, Daria and Sidhant what led to their decision to pursue vocational studies. Soneni explained that the mode of assessment was a contributing factor for her:

“A big positive about the BTEC for me is that it is gradually assessed, with practical elements, not just as one final exam. I find that exams, as a form of assessment, don’t allow me to show my real capabilities. The BTEC style of assessment suits me much more, I still have the challenge of doing assignments, but I’m doing it in a more practical way. Doing an A-Level alongside this allows me to have a balance with academic style study too.”

Soneni also explained that the format of her course is much more stimulating and enjoyable for students who enjoy working with people:

“I enjoy BTEC because I’m a hands-on type of person, I love talking to people, I love interacting, coaching and stuff like that. The BTEC lets me use these skills but also really gets me out of my comfort zone and stretches me. For example, I’m currently doing applied coaching, so I’m physically having to coach a team as well as an individual within the, rather than simply playing the sport myself.”

Daria, who is doing a BTEC alongside her A-Levels, chose to do a vocational qualification in marketing, as another string to her bow, opening up her options:

“I am doing A-Levels in Maths and Economics, as well as a BTEC in marketing. I chose the BTEC specifically to gain an insight into marketing, which will provide me with another career option, in case I’m no longer interested in finance or economics. It also gives me an insight into another area of ​​business.

Sidhant chose to do the IB CP programme, rather than the more traditional IB DP programme, as he felt it provided a better focus on his chosen career path:

“By doing the IB CP, I get the benefit of doing work experience. We have access to internships through our school, which not everyone has the opportunity to do. The IB CP is also more related to my career in business. It has allowed me to already work towards my career and future.”

What are the benefits of doing a vocational qualification?

Our students shared the ways in which their vocational courses have helped them to develop skills and be better equipped for university and the work place. Daria has found that her BTEC course has opened doors for her in professional networking:

“I think ever since starting the BTEC, I’ve been more social and open with people, I’m building more networks than I was before.”

Daria also highlighted the difference in focus in her BTEC course, compared to the A-Levels she is studying:

“A Levels are more theoretical, I think there’s a lot of information and it’s very independent, but BTECs are more based on developing career related skills.

Like Daria, Soneni has found the social elements of her course to be beneficial for her professionally:

The biggest benefit for me is confidence building, 100%. I’ve also grown my network in terms of potential work opportunities, through the practical elements of the course. I’ve developed my skills in public speaking, organisation, time management, especially in keeping up with deadlines. These are all skills that I’ll need in a work environment.”

Daria hopes that the work experience she has access to as part of her BTEC will allow her to stand out:

You’re able to complete real work experience. This has allowed me to gain an insight into working in the marketing world, so I’ll be able to use that experience to differentiate myself from other university and job applicants.”

What do students gain from work experience while they study?

Gaining practical experience is a key aspect of these vocational qualifications. Sidhant’s IB CP course has allowed him to take part in a 12 week internship at a Hilton Hotel, spending time in the hotel’s many departments one day per week throughout this period. He told us about the highlights for him so far:

I’m doing my internship in a hotel, and it’s allowed me to assess the sort of work I want to be involved in. I’ve learned about techniques used in advertising, how this industry gets their work done, and about how these processes work in a big company.”

As well as the technical understanding he feels he is gaining, Sidhant told us that the experience has familiarized him with being in a professional work environment:

“I’ve had to get used to this environment, coming from being at school. This was even simple things, like how to dress. At first, it was uncomfortable for me, because I’m not used to wearing formals at all, I’m used to a school uniform. I had to adjust to it.”

Daria has been doing her work experience within her school’s marketing department, and has also been provided with the opportunity to take part in an extensive internship at GEMS Royal Dubai School, supporting in the management of all things social media for the school. Daria told us:

“It’s a privilege to be able to be able to work in a country and a school where I have this opportunity. But I’m also a little nervous because I’ll be representing the school and my teachers and my students. I have to be mindful of that.”

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