The verdict on who has had a good week (heading for a first) and who has had a bad week (heading for a fail).
Heading for a first: university admissions tutors
It’s probably been a busy week, but it’s also been a record week for university admissions tutors. As expected, there was a late scramble for university places once A-level results were announced. With greater demand than ever before, pressure for clearing was unprecedented, with many students desperate to secure a place in the September 2011 entry before tuition fees treble next year. Places were getting snapped up more quickly than bargains in a Christmas sale, and by the start of this week 17,878 had already been allocated, a jump of 31% on last year. With places getting filled in record time, and pressure from university management to get bums on seats in order to balance the books, the pressure was on admissions tutors to deal with thousands of frantic prospective students hoping to secure a university place. So this week admissions tutors definitely deserve a first.
But for all my admiration of what admissions tutors do, particularly in the busy week that follows A-level results, I can’t help but think it simply papers over the crack of a much bigger problem. The fact that in 2011 we still have a system of university admissions based on predictions and followed by an annual frenzied clearing auction can not be right. I agree with my predecessor as NUS president, Wes Streeting (now chief executive of the Helena Kennedy Foundation), writing for the Huffington Post last week who said that “it’s time to consign this university bargain basement to the dustbin of history.” The sooner we can move to a post-qualification application (PQA) system, the better. The government has signalled its intent to investigate PQA in the recent higher education white paper, and this is one pledge I’d like to see the government keep.
Heading for a fail: Scottish government
We saw the commencement of a legal challenge against the Scottish government this week, for what critics believe is their contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights. While the cast-iron guarantee from the Scottish National party government in Holyrood to stick to their pledge for free education in Scotland is laudable, there is a horrid whiff of hypocrisy about it. Despite offering a free education to Scottish students studying in Scotland, an entitlement extended to other students coming from the rest of the EU, students from the rest of the UK are charged between £1,820 and £2,895 per year, set to rise to £9000 next year. Paul Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers believes this contravenes not only the European Convention on Human Rights, but also Britain’s Equality Act.
The implications of this legal challenge will be significant. Scottish universities are already claiming a funding shortfall somewhere in the region of £200m, and with students from the rest of the UK footing much of the bill already, the funding black hole will get bigger if the SNP government loses the case.