This article explores the higher education contribution to the qualifying training of police officers and probation officers and asks whether university study is an essential, desirable or indulgent ingredient in the education of people entering these careers. Claims for the benefits of higher education in vocational training for criminal justice work are examined as is the extent to which potential benefits are delivered in practice. The article draws on research and policy as well as the authors' experience as teachers and trainers in practice settings and in higher education. In the past, there were significant differences in the arrangements for and expectations of the training and education of those intending to become probation officers and police officers. Over the past decade, the training for both occupations has moved closer together, with the use of national vocational qualifications and the creation of a range of awards based in higher education. Probation officer training has been located in higher education for much of its history. By contrast, police officer training in the United Kingdom has been provided on-the-job and by police personnel. In recent years, the probation service has made much greater use of work-based training and some police services have worked with universities to develop foundation degrees for the training of new officer recruits.