“If you’re thinking about a career in something like finance, we’re saying you don’t have to sign on to a uni course.”

That was Karen Andrews, the assistant minister for vocational education, talking to Fairfax Media. She was explaining a new program that will allow high-school leavers to go straight into professional accounting and consultancy roles.

The program is being delivered by PricewaterhouseCoopers (a huge multinational accounting firm) and at least five other companies are expected to get in on it. It’s basically a chance for high school students to skip uni all together and get qualified in the workplace.

And PricewaterhouseCoopers aren’t the only ones to disregard degrees. Penguin Random House (the book publisher) and Ernst and Young (another accounting firm) both say they don’t require staff to have been to uni in order to work for them, Triple J’s Hack reported.

PricewaterhouseCoopers will run 18-month programs, allowing young people to work alongside professional accountants and consultants while completing a diploma of business. The programs are a bit like an office-based apprenticeship and have been dubbed the “higher apprenticeship” pilot program. Initially, the program will target 250 students but it has the potential to grow much bigger.

Why skip uni?

Well, uni fees are pretty damn expensive and the government has just announced that they’re going to cut funding and raise uni fees in the next budget. Not only that, the government has decided that students with HECS-HELP debts will have to start paying them back sooner, which is going to be rough for students who find themselves in $18,000 to $100,000 debt when they finish a degree.

Essentially, this “higher apprenticeship” approach to education will allow students to make money while they get qualified, instead of racking up a huge debt. Karen Andrews said, “You have options to get yourself out earning and learning at the same time.”

Does this mean uni is a thing of the past?

Despite this alternative approach, there are plenty of jobs that still require very specific university qualifications. Doctors, lawyers, teachers and nurses definitely still need degrees – full stop. But for those who work in other industries, such as accounting, business, finance, marketing and media, getting a degree isn’t really a necessity.

Catriona Jackson, the deputy chief executive of Universities Australia, describes the program as “a complement, rather than a competitor, to the education offered by universities.” She also acknowledged that university provides much more than a qualification – it’s a space for people to develop their communication and critical thinking skills, as well as their social and professional networks.