Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Getting into university just got harder - but is that really a bad thing?

Today's publication of the application statistics by UCAS, the UK university admissions service, will not make pleasant reading for this year's school leavers.

Applications have increased by 106,389, up some 22.9% on 2009 figures. This means that almost half a million UK-based and over 70,000 overseas applicants have applied for university places this year. This increase in applications combined with with the inevitable forthcoming cuts in higher education funding mean that universities are going to be much more selective.

On one level, this is arguably a very good thing. Sadly, the Government's noble aspiration to widen university participation has led to a dilution in standards in teaching at university and of graduate quality. With a university population at over two million and growing, we have too many people in Higher Education. The result is that a degree is no longer a mark of being an educated person or a ticket to a job, let alone entry to the professions. Too many people have been sold a hollow dream of a "graduate premium", many of them dropping out before the end of the course, leaving, not with a degree, only with a debt. The ambition that 50% of young people would "participate in Higher Education" was a flawed concept from the start. The new found selectivity marks the end of the indiscriminate increase in university numbers. Sadly, it has taken the economic downturn to bring the Government to its senses.

It is no surprise that these data also indicate that getting into a top university just got harder. Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group of 20 leading universities, said competition for places would be tougher than ever.

"Most Russell Group institutions have the same number of places available as last year and are making the same number of offers but applications have risen in most cases, by between 3% and 18%."

This is further bad news for this year's A-level candidates. In this context of mass university participation, the worth of a degree is matrix of three key factors, namely, where you go, what you study and how well you do.

Understandably places at Russell Group universities are highly sought after. It is thus all the more important that they give offers on the basis of merit, regardless of social or educational background. If the offers that are coming back here at Berkhamsted are anything to go by, it is encouraging that a number of these institutions are beginning to embrace the new A* at A-level as a key differentiator between top applicants - long may this continue.

University applications up 23% BBC Website 08/02/2010
University admissions: students being 'abandoned' Daily Telegraph 08/02/2010
University admissions commentary: places must rise to boost the 'fragile' economy Daily Telegraph 08/02/2010

No comments:

Post a Comment