Sunday, 15 January 2017

Musings on another UCAS year

Of course, the year isn't over until Results Day next Summer, but the deadline for applications has passed, and 140 have been made by Beaumont (or recently ex Beaumont) students. This figure matches the last couple in the sense that around 95% have applied to a university or higher education  establishment. This is despite the much higher cost of taking a UK degree course when compared to five years ago (tuition fees, loan interest rates and accommodation costs have all soared in this time) and also a reported fall in the income gap between graduate and non graduator employment.

If the cost of a degree is rising and the returns are falling, then one would expect demand to fall. So why is this not the case?

It could be due to the perceived value of the alternatives also falling in attractiveness.

Or it could be a local effect with Beaumont students not being average over a range of drivers, including quality of access to degree courses, the value placed on education for its own sake as well as, no doubt, some greater degree of financial comfort.

Or it could be that in a more economically uncertain world, accumulating greater education is seen as an insurance policy against financial dislocation, providing a global passport to future opportunities.

It is most likely a combination of all three factors at work, but is always interesting to monitor the impact of recent, dramatic change in the higher education sector. This is definitely not the end of this story.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

What's the value of taking a fourth A level?

As the latest A level reform finally starts to develop some consistency, with all reformed for a Sept 2017 start, this is a quality question. Universities will only make an offer based on three A levels, because they cannot discriminate against applicants who have been unable to take more, as these are likely to have been studying at less well-funded school and colleges. At the same time there is increasing doubt over the currency value of the new AS level. These changes can lead to a reasonable assumption that a full focus on just three A levels is always the rational choice.

However Beaumont retains a curriculum model that allows many A Level students, should they choose, to take four A levels (or a Double BTEC and two A levels, which amounts to the same teaching contact hours). This is because we see several important strands of value to the four course offer.

Firstly choosing to start with four, allows a student to take a subject with an element of risk, perhaps because it is new to the student or because it is more out of the GCSE comfort zone. If the subject does not work out, as the course progresses, then it can be dropped without damage. However it could become the centre piece of future study; my daughter chose, with some doubts, to take A level Psychology as a fourth AS level. As she had other options and interests at this stage, I doubt she would have chosen to take it as one of a narrow suite of just three. She went on to take an undergraduate degree and masters degrees in Psychology and now is employed by a large engineering design firm as an Occupational Psychologist. When she was a fifteen year old faced with making her A level choices she was not consciously aware that she had created an option for herself which would turn out to have tremendous value.

Secondly, the four A level option creates a safety net should one not work out either due to its academic challenge or a decline in interest in the subject content. Students have to do a minimum of three A levels, and the best possible grades must be achieved at the end of two years to progress in whatever direction is chosen.

Finally, some students have sufficient interest and ability to pursue four subjects all the way through the two year course. This can create further university course and career options for them. Also a decision to do more than the minimum and to succeed in doing this cannot fail to be an attraction to future employers.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Good advice from universities prior to sixth form subject choice

The Russell Group advice ("Informed Choices") detailed here about subject selection has been updated and enhanced. The key messages remain the same but perhaps there is a little more clarity and detail now.

The most useful element for Beaumont students is, I think, their 5 point plan, which I have summarised below:

1. Know what you want to study as a degree? 

Check what, if any, are the subject requirements - use UCAS Course Search to do this quickly 

2. Not sure what you want to study?

Keep your options open by choosing 1 or 2 "facilitating subjects" (these are the Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Maths, Further Maths, Languages, Geography, History and English Literature). There is  absolutely no advice of a need or a preference for 3.

3. GCSEs matter. Since the demise of AS levels universities are using this information more intensely and they often require certain GCSEs at certain standard in support of sixth form subject choices.

4. Think balance and suitable combinations, but do not choose a likely weak area to study just to create balance. 

5. Make sure you know why you are choosing a subject, especially if it is new to you. Be able to explain for a minute why this choice makes sense for you.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Approaching the new A levels successfully

The key issue for students faced with a return to terminal exams after two years of study must be planning consolidation of understanding and command of a much broader amount of content. It is no longer possible to chop up learning into bite size pieces and this is one of the intents of the new qualifications.

Despite the loss of Year 12 exam downtime, teachers will not be able to devote much, if any extra time to additional revision or consolidation, because the new content to be taught has often increased sizeably. This means students must be prepared to revisit previous studies continually to embed understanding. It requires a different approach, but Beaumont students have shown that they have greater independent learning than most, so take heart but take note also.

Nursing Apprenticeships Launched

As concerns rise about the impact of the government cuts to Nursing degree bursaries, a response has been made in the form of 1000 Nursing Apprenticeships, where recruits can learn and work and at the end of five years have earned a Nursing Degree. This could be attractive, but as always, with new schemes, careful consideration of the downsides as well as the upsides is needed.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Interesting statistics from UCAS


70% of students get into their Firm choice of university

10% into their Insurance choice

10% gain a place via Clearing

Of the 10% who do not get a place in an application round, 50% apply again and 90% of these gain a place this time around.

Musings on the economics of university study

Is it "worth" it? There is more possible value to a degree than the pure future earnings/cost projections, hence the quotation marks around worth, but as there has been considerable recent analysis of the changing economics, it is worth a review here.

The cost of university study is clearly rising sharply. This is driven by sharply increasing accommodation costs, the ability of universities to begin charging over £9000 per year for tuition, and the sizeable interest rate charge being levied (about to rise to 4.5% per year). Additionally the Government has reneged on its promise to index the £21000 earnings threshold so a greater proportion of real graduate earnings will incur the 9% repayment levy.

At the same time, there is evidence of a decline in the earnings margin between graduates and non-graduates. Taken together an increasing number of students are likely to find that their degree is not "worth" it. However this year a record number (434,000) have secured places at British universities which suggest that the pure financial figures are either not fully recognised or that students see other aspects of gaining a degree, including greater career flexibility and the student experience, to still be worth "investing" in.

As always it is important to recognise that any figures of this type only have validity as broad averages. Many students will obtain much more value (in all its forms) from going to university than the cost whilst many others will, unfortunately, obtain considerably less.