jump to navigation

Thu 8 Dec: First or Fail – Futuretrack and UCL’s Malcolm Grant: first or fail? December 15, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Futuretrack and UCL’s Malcolm Grant: first or fail?

A first for the timing of the latest graduate destinations survey, but a fail for the president and provost – although does he deserve one?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/dec/08/futuretrack-ucl-malcolm-grant

Malcolm Grant

Members of UCL’s staff and student unions voted for a motion of no confidence in UCL’s Malcolm Grant – but, Aaron Porter asks, does he deserve it? Photograph: Dan Chung/The Guardian

Heading for a first … tracking the destinations of graduates from 2009

At a time when there is so much focus on identifying the benefits of higher education, and increasingly the destinations of graduates, it’s timely that the latest Futuretrack survey has been launched, this time tracking students who applied through Ucas in 2005/06 and therefore likely to have graduated in 2009 (or 2010 if they were on a four-year programme).

The Futuretrack survey is probably the most comprehensive cradle-to-grave (or rather from application to post-graduation) study looking at cohorts of students through their journey in higher education. At a time when there are increasing questions about what is actually happening to students after they graduate, how many are getting jobs, at what level, how many are going on to further study, the findings will be of real interest to the sector.

The survey itself is independently conducted by a research team at Warwick University on behalf of the Higher Education Careers Service Unit (HECSU), but the results will be of interest to prospective students, parents, institutions and government.

Heading for a fail … Malcolm Grant

This week an extraordinary members meeting of UCL Union, the student union at UCL, passed a motion of no confidence in Malcolm Grant as president and provost of University College London.

A motion entitled “Hands off the NHS, hands off our education: Malcolm Grant has got to go”, set out its objection to Grant accepting the role as chair of the NHS commissioning board, which he will undertake part-time alongside his role as provost and president. The objections were that he has been complicit in the coalition’s NHS reforms, lobbied for the cap on tuition fees to be increased and claimed that a living wage at UCL was a “luxury that could not be afforded”.

The motion did not hold back in its criticism of Grant, was one-sided, and had the fingerprints of the Socialist Workers’ Party all over it. It failed to to mention that: Grant has brought unprecedented success to UCL and bolstered its international standing and reputation; a living wage is indeed being introduced subsequent to his comments; he’d agreed to take a 10% paycut and he publicly criticised Lansley’s reforms as “unintelligible, very messy and not clear”. And although the motion mentions that Grant is the most highly paid university leader in the UK, it failed to say that he intends to donate his salary from the part-time role as chair of the NHS commissioning board to UCL.

While the NHS reforms continue to be deeply unpopular, if Andrew Lansley is going to appoint someone to chair the commissioning board, I feel confident in Malcolm Grant to at least deliver results with objectivity and impartiality. Although a lawyer by background rather than an administrator, Grant is a man who delivers results and has an impressive track record at UCL.

Due to capacity issues in the room, more than 250 students were allowed to vote. Of those present, a healthy 160 backed the motion of no confidence with 86 against and 28 abstaining. But with a total student population of well over 20,000 at UCL it’s hard to say with any confidence whether this reflects the views of the student body as a whole, or just a vocal minority. That question should soon be answered as there is about to be a referendum on the issue, giving all UCL students the chance to have their say.

Whether the motion is backed or overturned by the UCL student body, it will undoubtedly generate a significant debate. But for critics of Grant and his decision to accept the role, I would say that if anyone is going to knock some sense into the NHS reforms, I’d be prepared to say that he is one of the few people I can imagine doing it.

Advertisements

Thur 27 Oct – Guardian HE Network – First or Fail Which? and university application figures October 30, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
add a comment
Which? university guide and UCAS application figures: first or fail?

Which? magazine is to publish a guide to British universities but will it get a first or a fail?

Ucas logo

The universities admission service, Ucas, has seen a 12% drop in applicants from the UK compared to this time last year. Photograph: M4OS Photos/Alamy

Heading for a First… Which?

At the start of this week the Observer reported that well-respected consumer rights magazine Which? will now publish a guide to British universities. Not that much more evidence was required, it was further proof that our university system is moving toward a more market based system. And in the same way Which? has helped generations of consumers purchase the right car or kitchen appliance, universities are now next in the queue for the Which? treatment.

At the surface, the prospect of an independent, well researched assessment of what is provided in our universities should be welcome, particularly by prospective students and their parents, there are some considerations that need to be thought through. When deciding to assess a car or a washing machine, there are some pretty indisputable factors where transparent information is helpful. Whether that’s reliability, price, dimensions or terms and conditions. But judging an education isn’t quite so easy. It’s not just difficult to decide which measures are the most important. Is academic progress more important than final degree outcomes? How important is the research environment for an undergraduate? How do you account for the distinctiveness of a small and specialist institution that may not benefit from the economies of scale, but more than compensate with a stronger sense of community. Talking of which, how do you begin to measure ‘a sense of community’?

As I see it, for Which? to simply move beyond a compilation of the greatest hits from the plethora of league tables that already exist, their real challenge will be to try and capture the essence of different institutions, their mission, strengths and weaknesses. Simple metrics don’t do justice to the broader importance and value of a higher education experience, so here’s hoping for something more sophisticated than that.

Heading for a Fail… University applications

It always looked likely given the confusion and anger with the government’s reforms to higher education funding, but this week we got the first signs of evidence that for the first year of higher tuition fees in 2012, university applications were indeed headed for decline.

Figures from the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS) showed that the applications received by 15 October were 9% lower than this time last year. It’s important to note that the final deadline for applications is not until the middle of January 2012, so this is far from a definitive picture, but the early signs don’t look good.

Personally I don’t consider a small decline in applications overall to be a huge problem, there will still be more people applying for a place than there are places to go round. In fact even a 9% decline will mean that thousands of qualified applicants would still miss out on a university place. The analysis that is crucial is to determine which groups of students are applying in greater (or fewer) numbers than before. A fall in applications which hits 10% or more is politically damaging for the coalition. But if the decline is particularly concentrated amongst poorer applicants or certain ethnic groups, then it will be more damning.

At first glance, a 9% drop is fairly troubling though. But there are two important factors to bear in mind. The first is an issue of demographics, the numbers of 18 year olds eligible to apply in 2012 is actually fewer than 2011, as a consequence of a slowing of the birth rate in the early 1990s. This may account for as much as 5% of the fall. But countering that, a small amount of analysis of the early UCAS figures show that applications to Oxbridge, dentistry, medicine and veterinary science (which have an early deadline) fell by only 0.8%. This would therefore indicate that the fall everywhere else is actually closer to 20%, but it could also mean that applicants are actually taking more time to consider their options, but will still ultimately decide to apply.

Whilst it is important to monitor these figures closely, it’s also important not to lose sight of two crucial issues. Despite the rising cost to the individual the broader benefits of higher education need to continue to be articulated, probably louder than ever before. And when it comes to the financial information, government through initiatives like the Independent Student Finance Task Force which has organised a National Student Money Day on Monday 14th November, need to maintain a visible presence to ensure that prospective students understand the deal, whether they agree with it or not.

Thu 22 Sep: Guardian HE Network – First or Fail: University Alliance and post-qualification applications September 22, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education, Tuition Fees.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

First or fail: University Alliance and post-qualification applications

University Alliance’s report into universities’ role in stimulating economic growth is worth a read but a second attempt at driving PQA is already losing steam, says Aaron Porter

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/2011/sep/22/first-fail-university-alliance-pqa

signs of spring

UA’s report sets out an agenda for stimulating growth in economy through higher education
Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Heading for a first … University Alliance

Higher education is infamous for producing reports that, while very worthy, end up only acting as doorstops or decoration on a bookshelf. So when a report is produced of real value and of important contemporary relevance to the key debate in politics right now – how to stimulate economic growth – it should be celebrated. This week, the publication of the University Alliance report, Growing the future: universities leading, changing and creating the regional economy was a welcome contribution to both the higher education and economic debates being had right now.

Unashamedly, the report set out the role which universities already do, and need to continue to play in contributing to the regional economy. At a time when the coalition is obsessed with deficit reduction, which is unquestionably choking off growth, it has never been more important for universities to demonstrate their value in helping to stimulate growth. In the immediate term, they are a vital source for jobs and an important link with local businesses; in the medium term their research and knowledge transfer will equip the future workforce with the skills required to ensure the UK can remain internationally competitive.

With contributions from leading figures in higher education, industry, politics and even a chapter from the chancellor of Huddersfield University, Sir Patrick Stewart, the report is well worth reading. Hopefully the kind words in the foreword from Vince Cable will translate into real support and crucially adequate funding for universities from government to be able to deliver on the promise they undoubtedly have.

Heading for a fail … post-qualification applications

The pros and cons of a post-qualification application system have long been debated within higher education. Bill Rammell, during his time as higher education minister put forward the idea for consideration, but a mixture of resistance from the sector and political timing meant it wasn’t realised.

So when the idea of moving A-level results forward and the university application process back was re-introduced by the coalition in the higher education white paper it was met with a mixed reaction once again. Instinctively, I continue to be drawn to the idea. Surely it makes more sense for university places to be awarded on the basis of your actual results, rather than on prediction. And while I accept that this may mean some shifting around of the school exam timetable and the university application process, it seems a price worth paying.

However, this week the Russell Group started to go public with their criticism of the idea, claiming that it’s not clear how the benefits outweigh the disadvantages and raising concerns that a PQA system could hamper their efforts to recruit disadvantaged students. A public statement like this means the Russell Group will be lobbying behind the scenes to see the idea thrown out by the time the white paper comes back from parliamentary scrutiny.

I still wait to be ultimately convinced by the arguments on either side, but I can’t help remain uncomfortable with an admissions system that relies so heavily on predictions, rather than a genuine attempt to measure attainment and more crucially potential.

Thur 1 Sep: Guardian HE: First or fail: Campaign for Financial Education and 2012 university applicants September 2, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education, Tuition Fees.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

First or fail: Campaign for Financial Education and 2012 university applicants

Deserving recognition this week: a campaign to add financial education to the school curriculum; falling from favour, the students who can’t afford higher tuition fees

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/sep/01/first-or-fail-campaign-for-financial-edcation

 

abacus

Money Saving Expert, Martin Lewis has launched a campaign to get compulsory financial education into the school curriculum. Photograph: Toru Hanai/REUTERS

Aaron’s 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: campaign for financial education

With all the furore surrounding tuition fees, debt, loans and interest rates, very little thought has been given to the support, and crucially the education given to school pupils about finance and money. So with higher education funding rarely out of the headlines, Martin Lewis of the Money Saving Expert website has launched a campaign to get compulsory financial education into the school curriculum.

While higher education funding may have been the catalyst for the campaign, it’s evident that financial education wouldn’t be limited to information about that, in fact the plan would be to cover the basics of personal finance and consumer rights. Launching a petition on the government’s new e-petition website, Martin Lewis describes the current state of affairs as “a national disgrace that in the 20 years since introducing student loans, we’ve educated our youth into debt when they go to university, but never about debt. We’re a financially illiterate nation.” Strong words, but then again a comprehensive understanding of basic finance is an important issue. A wrong decision, or unchallenged misinformation can cost thousands.

Since launching the campaign, the e-petition has quickly passed more than 50,000 signatures. And with parliament giving consideration to a full debate on any petition that passes 100,000 sign ups, it’s already over half-way there.

In an economy that already requires an increasingly sophisticated understanding as to how to make the right financial decisions, this seems like a no-brainer to me. To add your name to the petition, you can sign up here.

Heading for a fail: 2012 university applicants

The government likes to claim they don’t understand the system and perhaps the financial education they receive isn’t up to scratch, but it doesn’t take a degree to realise that lots of potential university applicants for 2012 are going to be deterred from applying due to the hike in fees. The big question for universities, but also the government, is how many? Up until now, it’s been almost impossible to say with any authority how many fewer applicants we could see for the 2012 intake. Lessons from history show us that after the previous tuition fee rise, from £1,000 a year to £3,000, we saw a 5% drop for the 2006 intake. But that was quite a different reform that met with quite a different reaction and crucially was done at a time when there was record investment in the outreach infrastructure such as AimHigher. With that infrastructure gone and a hostile reaction on the streets and in the press, initial predictions have been for a drop of anywhere between 5% to 20% through university doors come 2012.

Anything approaching a double digit fall would be catastrophic for the coalition, and for the Liberal Democrats in particular, who are desperately hoping that their tuition fee car crash won’t cause them any more political damage. If the decrease is negligible, they will at least claim it hasn’t had the damaging impact many feared it would. However, it will do little to allay the concerns of thousands of students and their parents who still feel betrayed after their very public pledge signing, and then discarding. Anything approaching a 10% fall or more, will simply give more ammunition to the long-standing critics of the tuition fee trebling.

So this week, findings from the first major study into the applicant intentions from the National Foundation for Education Research (NFER), which surveyed over 1,000 secondary school pupils aged between 14 an 17, will make uncomfortable reading for the coalition. NFER’s headline was that 15% of pupils in school years 10 to 12 in England who were originally planning to go to university have now decided not to, 19% of school pupils have decided to only apply to universities charging less than the £9000 a year, and 26% said they will only apply to universities where they can live at home. But perhaps most shocking of all, was that 79% of respondents said that the tuition fee increase was forcing them to change their plans about future study in some form or another. It’s going to take more than a Simon Hughes sized sticking plaster to remedy this.

So the clock is ticking to see whether the findings from this research project will be translated into the real decline many predicted when the government first announced their plans, but if this is anything to go by, it does not look encouraging.

Thur 25 Aug: First or fail: university admissions tutors and the Scottish government August 25, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

First or fail: university admissions tutors and the Scottish government

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/aug/25/first-or-fail-university-admissions

Praise for those dealing with the clearing frenzy, but criticism of the SNP for excluding students from the rest of the UK

clearing advisers

Admissions tutors did a great job of dealing with prospective students this year, but Aaron Porter wants to see a move to a post-qualification application. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

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.