PARENTS and teachers pressurise pupils to go to university without knowing whether it is the best option for them, a leading industrialist has claimed.

Sir Ian Wood, the former Wood Group chief executive and philanthropist, said the pervasive culture that higher education was "the be all and end all" was damaging to the large proportion of pupils who were not academically minded.

And he called for a greater focus on the importance of vocational qualifications - as well as a campaign to highlight successful and lucrative careers outside the traditional professions.

Sir Ian was giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament's education committee, which is looking at the options available to pupils when they leave school.

He said: "There is a real cultural thing about university being the be all and end all and therefore anything that is not university frankly tends to get secondary consideration. Parents are at fault, teachers are at fault, some schools are at fault.

"We are trying to change a long embedded view that somehow the really worthwhile thing in life is to go to university and so many parents have got that as the aspiration for the youngster.

"Parents are the root of the problem, but teachers are the next stage up because a lot of teachers believe that their success is based on how many Highers their children get."

Sir Ian told the committee apprenticeships and trades occupations should be made more respectable and highlighted the fact many pupils who had a technical education earned higher salaries than those who went to university.

He added: "Because of the culture issue a lot of people go to university because their parents want them to go to university ... but they come out and they are still not sure what they want to do and the qualification hasn't really helped them an awful lot."

Joanna Murphy, chairwoman of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, said pupils could be "negatively influenced" by parents, but this was often due to a lack of understanding of the alternative opportunities.

She said: "Although career opportunities are being highlighted more frequently in schools, particularly the promotion of apprenticeships, this tends to be focused in fifth and sixth year which is far too late for parents."

Eileen Prior, executive director of parent body Connect Scotland, said many parents got the message "loud and clear" from schools that university was the desirable next step.

She said: "Since it is well recognised that most parents receive their information about education from their child’s school we can’t be surprised at the result.

"Parents tell us that they feel they receive little information about diverse routes both in and after school, and they often feel frustrated that their child is being ignored in a system which focusses on higher education if their child is not academically minded.

"Some parents have a clear vision of what they want for their child based on their experience and often family tradition and it is up to schools to help families and young people see the value of wider approaches."

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said it was not teachers, but the Scottish Government and schools quango Education Scotland who "obsessed" about the number of Higher passes. And he also argued business had "raised the stakes" by making more jobs degree level entry only.

He said: "I think teachers will bridle at his dismissal of their efforts to encourage vocational pathways. We have been arguing constantly that senior school has been overly focused on qualifications for the past four years."

A spokesman for Universities Scotland said: "We have been absolutely clear that we need to a conversation about getting parents and schools to recognise that the best outcome for young people is the outcome that allows the young person to fulfil their potential.

"We are also clear that for many people university is the right option for them later in life and we need diverse routes to success for diverse individuals."