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Latest Increase in Unconditional Offers Highlights Need for Radical Change
July 31, 2019
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This year, almost two in five (38 per cent) of 18 year old applicants from England, Northern Ireland, and Wales received an offer for a place at university that could be considered unconditional, compared to a third (34%) last year and just 1% six years ago, according to new analysis released today (30 Jul).

A report from UCAS also reveals that the total number of unconditional offers made to 18-year-olds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland this year was 75,845, which represents 7.8% of all offers. This is up on last year’s 67,915 (7.1% of all offers) and considerably higher than the 2,985 (0.4% of all offers) made in 2013.

UCAS’ report ‘Unconditional offers – an update for 2019’, published within 22 working days of the 30 June application deadline, shows 97,045 students who are typically yet to complete their qualifications received an offer with an unconditional component. This is a rise from 2018, when 87,540 of these applicants received an offer of this type – which represented a third (34 per cent).

In 2019, a quarter of 18 year old applicants (63,830) from England, Northern Ireland, and Wales received a ‘conditional unconditional’ offer, up from a fifth (52,145) at this point last year. ‘Conditional unconditional’ offers are initially made by the university as conditional, then updated to unconditional if the offer is accepted as the student’s first (firm) choice.

Applicants from the most advantaged backgrounds, using the POLAR4 measure, were slightly more likely to receive a conditional unconditional offer than those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

Universities’ offer-making policies are typically confirmed up to a year before the start of the admissions cycle, and they will usually be consistent throughout the cycle to ensure fairness. By 31 March 2019, universities and colleges had already made 98% of this year’s offers to 18 year olds from England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Previous UCAS survey insight  has shown that around two thirds of students receiving a conditional unconditional offer felt positive about them, with some reporting a reduction in stress levels before sitting their exams. UCAS’ 2018 End of Cycle Report  showed that those holding a confirmed place on an undergraduate course were more likely to miss their predicted grades than those holding a conditional offer.

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said:

‘Students’ best interests must be the number one consideration for universities and colleges when making offers. We have expanded our information and advice to students  on all types of offers, as well as producing a series of good practice resources  to support admissions teams when making unconditional offers.

‘The use of unconditional offers remains a complex issue and continues to evolve. We look forward to working with the Office for Students and Universities UK on their respective upcoming admissions practice reviews, to deliver meaningful recommendations.

‘Clearing, the post-qualifications application route, is now open. With student choice at the heart of the UK’s application system, we’ve streamlined the process  for those who have changed their minds and now want to make a new choice. Anyone can apply to the 30,000 courses with places on offer for this September, including those students who might have accepted an unconditional offer.’

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

“What sets the UK’s world-leading universities apart is our relentless focus on quality and this must be protected.

“There is a place for unconditional offers, however this data highlights the continued rise in their use and we know some students who accept unconditional offers can be more likely to miss their predicted A Level grades. We also have particular concerns about the use of conditional unconditional offers, which can potentially pressure students into accepting a place which may not the best option for them.

“Many institutions are already taking steps to address the rise in unconditional offers and we hope these efforts continue, with the figures showing a different picture next year. We look forward to seeing the results of the OfS’ and UUK’s reviews of admissions practices to ensure they work in the best interests of students.”

The University and College Union (UCU) said the time had come to adopt a post-qualification admissions (PQA) system – preferred in the rest of the world – where students apply to university after they receive their exam results.

UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell said:

‘Unconditional offers have made a mockery of exams and put teachers under unfair pressure when it comes to predicted grades. Unconditional offers put students under enormous pressure to make a snap decision about their future and can encourage some to take their foot off the gas, instead of striving for excellence.

‘The continuing rise of unconditional offers demonstrates the stark failings of our current admissions system. It is time for us to join the rest of the world and adopt a post-qualifications admission system so we can make university offers based on actual achievements instead of guesswork.’

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:

“Our recently announced ‘Fair admissions review’ is bringing together school, college, university and UCAS leaders to ensure offer making practices are fair and transparent, underpinned by clear criteria and operating in the best interests of students.

“There are clear benefits in universities being able to use a variety of offer making practices to reflect an individual student’s circumstances, potential and the context of their application, and to support different groups such as students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“An important principle of the UK system is that universities decide independently which students they accept; but with this comes a responsibility to explain why and how places are awarded, and to show the public and students why different types of offers are made.”

Research shows that only one in six (16%) university applicants achieve the exam grade points that they were predicted. While UCAS has found that holding an unconditional offer increases the chances of missing a predicted grade by two or more grades by 6.4 percentage points.

Overall, 80% of applications from 18 year olds in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales received an offer (either conditional, unconditional, or conditional unconditional) this year, tying the record of 2018.

Apprenticeship v University: What Course to Take?

Remember that moment when the school careers adviser leant over the desk and asked: “So what are you planning to do next?” 

It’s a daunting decision when you’re 17. 

A university degree costs tens of thousands of pounds, although the evidence suggests it can boost your earning potential later. 

On the other hand, an apprenticeship lets you earn as you learn, but life gets serious pretty fast. 

Apprenticeships are shaking off a reputation for low-paid drudgery and there are more higher-level apprenticeships coming on stream. But competition for the best opportunities is as fierce as it is for the top university places.

So if you’re leaving school, does it make sense to aim for one of those coveted places? Or are you missing out if you don’t go for the campus experience? Recent apprentices and graduates have shared their experiences with us.

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‘School was very anti-apprenticeship’

When Matt Carpenter left school at 17, a lot of his classmates were aiming for university. He could have joined them.

“I was the only person in my class who didn’t go,” he says. 

Matt Carpenter (r) and fellow Merchant Navy apprentices at sea
At 21 Matt Carpenter (r) is already qualified to drive ships and tankers

Instead, he took up a three-year apprenticeship with the Merchant Navy, spending half his time at college and half his time at sea on oil and gas tankers, passenger ships and bulk carriers.

“School was very, very anti-apprenticeship – even when I had the place, they were very against it. Up until the last day, they were still asking, ‘Do you really want to do this?'” 

For him, the choice was clear: no student debt and pay of £175 a week. Now, at 21, he’s on an annual salary of £37,000 tax-free and qualified to drive the world’s largest ships.

He admits the social life didn’t compare to what his friends were up to, though. “When you’re at sea, you’re quite cut off. There’s no internet. You’re working every day.”

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‘It made me who I am’

Amy De Friend, 25, did a degree in fashion promotion and communication. She now works in recruitment, but doesn’t regret her decision to study first.

“I went to university, because at the time I didn’t know what I wanted to do.” Amy started her degree the first year that fees went up from £3,000 a year to £9,250.

“My parents said: ‘Do you really want to spend £9,000 on this?'”

And at the end of the three years, she discovered that to get into the fashion industry, she would still have to take unpaid internships. So she worked for Carphone Warehouse instead.

Amy De Friend
Amy De Friend says one of the new experiences she gained through university was learning to scuba dive

Amy accepts she could probably have got the recruitment job she’s in now without a degree.

“I wouldn’t say it was a waste of time,” she says. “The experience I had was fantastic, it helped me develop as a person.”

At university, Amy joined a diving club and qualified as an instructor, something she wouldn’t otherwise have tried.

“I don’t think it’s all about getting a job. It’s about what you gain from the experience. It made me who I am.”

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‘I was itching to start work’

Nick Martin, 20, has just been head-hunted for a £22,500-a-year job in sales. He puts that down to his work experience as an apprentice with a telephone networking equipment company.

“Before I got my last job, I went through a lot of interviews. Every single agency and company loved the fact I had done an apprenticeship, because it shows you know what it’s like in a fast-paced office environment.”

Nick Martin cycling
Nick decided he could pursue his ambitions as a semi-pro cyclist alongside an apprenticeship just as easily as through a university team

At 17, Nick was “just itching to get into work”.

The apprenticeship scheme he joined was new and he felt he was a “guinea pig”, often left to get on with things unsupervised, which meant a lot of responsibility very quickly. 

“By the time most people my age come out of uni, I’ll have had three to five years’ experience. On the flipside, I haven’t spent that time getting the extra qualifications.”

“At the time, I didn’t have doubts. Now, to be honest, I think about it a bit more. The main reason for that is a bit of ‘Fomo’ – fear of missing out – missing out on the social aspect of being at uni. You get to live in halls or housing with flatmates. I’m still living at home.”

Then there’s the snobbery. “I still get that feeling from some people – people I know who are at uni who think they’re better – there can be a smugness. But there’s nothing guaranteed. They’ll have a degree, but they’ll still have to find a job, which is hard.”

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‘To learn about something I loved was brilliant’

Jenny Willbourn, 29, joined engineering firm Atkins after gaining undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in geography. The firm has a well-established apprenticeship programme, but she says that wouldn’t have been the right route for her.

“I believe there’s something valuable in academic study – the opportunity to understand a particular area of knowledge.”

Jenny Willbourn at her desk
Jenny Willbourn joined Atkins after studying for five years at university

“To push your communication skills is one thing, but to critically evaluate – that’s a skill that university teaches. I value that as second to none.”

She works in a highly specialised team at Atkins looking at spatial data, including mapping the locations of badgers and bats as part of the HS2 planning process.

“I needed a degree to tell me what the options were and give me the skills I now have. For me, the ability to hone my skills at an academic level was very important.”

But above all, she enjoyed the experience: “To learn about something I loved was brilliant.”

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‘I feel really proud of myself’

Joy Shepheard-Walwyn, 19, had a place at Durham University to study philosophy and Russian. She rejected it in favour of a management consultancy apprenticeship with accountancy firm PwC.

Moving to Leeds on her own just a few days after her 18th birthday was nerve-racking, she says. But PwC has helped provide a community for her in and out of work. She’s joined the firm’s netball team and teaches English to refugees. She loves the work, managing change in the public sector, adult social care, local government and schools.

“I feel really proud of myself in terms of what I’ve achieved.”

Joy Shepheard-Walwyn
Joy Shepheard-Walwyn turned down a university place to take up a PwC apprenticeship

She thinks university can be about putting off adult life a little longer. “My friends are out partying a lot, but I’m earning a salary.” 

“I don’t feel I missed out. I just went it about it a different way.” 

By Lucy HookerBusiness reporter, BBC News

Universities Need to Address the ‘Stark Disparities’ in Graduate Outcomes
July 1, 2019
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New data shows the wide variation in graduate outcomes depending course and institution.

Universities need to address the ‘stark disparities’ that see students get significantly different earnings and employment outcomes at different institutions despite doing the same subjects, the Education Secretary has said (26 June).

New data released today show the wide variation in average earnings and employability by course and institution 1, 3 and 5 years after graduation, and reinforces to prospective students completing their A Levels this week that where they choose to study really matters.

Damian Hinds has praised the universities that are leading the way for student outcomes, including future earnings and employability, but expressed his concerns at those delivering similar courses and not yielding the same results.

Last month Mr Hinds expressed concerns over courses not offering value for money for students and taxpayers, and today’s data shows that some universities aren’t giving students the same positive outcomes that other students on similar courses benefit from. Previous research by the IFS has shown that variation in outcomes cannot be solely attributed to differences in students’ prior attainment and social background.

Expected salaries are only one of the drivers when it comes to choosing a university and course. Today, Mr Hinds has highlighted the importance of courses that contribute to the UK’s rich and diverse culture and society.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:

Studying at university has the potential to expand horizons, enrich understanding and transform lives, and we have more data available than ever before to help students make the right decision to achieve that. We know that potential earnings is a driver for many when it comes to choosing a university, and today’s data will help thousands choose the right course for them.

Of course, future earnings aren’t the only marker of a successful degree, we need to also look at employability, social impact and the important cultural value which enriches our society.

What I am concerned about though is how a course at one university can generate drastically different outcomes and experiences compared to another one offering the same subject, whether that’s potential earnings, employability and even teaching quality.

It cannot be right that students studying the same subjects at different institutions, and paying the same fees, are not getting the same positive outcomes which are evidently achievable. All students should feel they are getting value for money and the stark disparities between some degrees show there are universities that need to improve and maximise the potential of their courses.

Last year analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies showed that women who study at the lowest returning course earn on average 64% (approximately £17,000) less than the average degree after graduation. For men, this figure is 67% (approximately £21,000) less.

This month a student survey from the Higher Education Policy Institute showed that more than a third (36%) of students said they would have made a different post-18 choice if they were given the opportunity again. These options included choosing a different institution (12%) or course (8%), both (6%), or choosing an alternative route such as an apprenticeship (4%).

The Government has transformed student choice by increasing the data available and the data today will help students opening their A Level results on 15 August find the right course and institution for them.

Two new apps launched earlier this year, backed by Government funding, which use graduate outcomes data to help prospective students make better choices about where and what to study.

ThinkUni, created by AccessEd, works as a personalised digital assistant to access information, while TheWayUp! created by The Profs, is a game where players can simulate career paths.

Universities Minister Chris Skidmore said:

Deciding where and what to study at university will be one of the biggest choices young people will make, so we want students and their parents to have the best possible information about higher education.

This data is an invaluable tool to help prospective students make the right choice for them and know what to expect from the course they choose. I hope the next generation of students will take advantage of all the data this government has made available to help them start their career on the right path.

The department’s flagship rating system, the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF), which awards universities with a Gold, Silver or Bronze rating encourages high-quality teaching and provides another tool to help students make informed decisions on their post-18 options.

Last month Philip Augar’s independent panel for the post-18 education and funding review published its recommendations to the Government, with a focus on delivering value for money for students and taxpayers. The Government will now consider the panel’s recommendations before concluding the review at the Spending Review.

The universities regulator, the Office for Students (OfS), has placed a condition of registration on providers to deliver successful outcomes for all of their students. The OfS has the power to take action where a provider is not meeting this criterion, including imposing sanctions, and in the most serious cases deregistration.

Education Secretary Calls for an End to Low Value Degrees
May 28, 2019
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New analysis identifies courses where students aren’t earning enough five years after graduating to repay student loansDamian Hinds

Universities and higher education providers offering poor value degrees are letting down thousands of students and costing the taxpayer millions, the Education Secretary has warned today (26 May).

Damian Hinds has called on institutions to drop or revamp courses delivering poor value for money as new analysis shows that on more than one in 10 of all courses, there is a 75% chance that graduates won’t be earning enough five years after leaving university to start making loan repayments.

Read more

Universities Urged to Review ‘unacceptable’ Admissions Practices
April 5, 2019
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Education Secretary calls for review of university admissions practices, which have seen students ‘backed into a corner’ to accept place.Damian Hinds

A full review of university admissions is required to end ‘unacceptable’ practices some universities use to lure students into accepting higher education places, the Education Secretary said today (5 April).

Damian Hinds is calling for a review of admissions practices after the extent that ‘conditional unconditional’ offers are used by institutions was revealed by UCAS last year.

A ‘conditional unconditional’ offer from a university informs students that they are guaranteed a place, but only if they put the university as their first option. This could breach laws designed to protect consumers from entering into a transaction they otherwise wouldn’t have.

In letters to the 23 universities using this recruitment technique, Mr Hinds will call on them to end this practice. He will say they are ‘backing students into a corner’ to accept a place at their institution – trapping them from exploring other options that could be more suitable. A small number of institutions have recently decided to end this practice, and now Mr Hinds is calling for other universities to follow suit. Read more

My Vision for Global Higher Education by Minister
March 29, 2019
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The following speech was made by Chris Skidmore the Universities Minister addresses the UUKi higher education forum 27th March 2019.

Good afternoon. And thank you for inviting me to speak at this year’s International Higher Education Forum here at Imperial College London on the importanceOfficial portrait of Chris Skidmore crop 2.jpg of staying international. Please accept my apologies for not joining you in person.

And all credit to the organisers – this Forum is certainly timely! We are now just a few weeks away from the UK’s departure from the EU. So, it is certainly important for us to be looking to the future and considering our relationships with the wider world.

Let me begin today by reaffirming our commitment to remaining international. Brexit may well mean that we are leaving the European Union soon, but it certainly does not mean that we are leaving Europe or, indeed, any of our global partnerships behind.

If anything, Brexit means we now need to be thinking and acting more globally than ever before. Our world-leading universities and colleges are international at their core. Our higher education sector relies on – and indeed thrives on – international connectivity, collaboration and partnership, and I want to see all those things continuing to flourish.

As it stands politically, we still wish to have a deal with the European Union, guaranteeing certainty until the end of the Implementation Period and continuing to participate in the Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 framework programme until then, while negotiating the terms of our Future Economic Partnership.

Read more

Universities Minister Calls for a Better Deal for Students
June 8, 2018
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Speaking at the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) conference  (7 June) Sam Gyimah said there are courses on offer that do not lead to rewarding careers and made clear that all students deserve an excellent university experience.

The Minister was speaking ahead of the publication of new analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), commissioned by the Department for Education, which confirms a vast difference in earnings potential for graduates – emphasising the fact that where and what you study really matters and can significantly affect future earnings and career prospects.

The IFS analysis shows that women who study one of the bottom 100 courses have earnings up to 64% (approximately £17,000) less than the average degree after graduation. For men, it can be up to 67% (approximately £21,000).

Universities Minister Sam Gyimah said:

Today’s publication has important and far-reaching ramifications for the debate on value for money in Higher Education.

These findings demonstrate that studying the same subject at a different institution can yield a very different earnings premium. The choices that students make about what and where to study does matter.

We must build a system where everyone with the ability to benefit from a university education has the opportunity to attend, the information they need to make the right decision, and that when they go to university, they receive a first-rate education that delivers real value for money.

The Minister went on to challenge universities to review their offer to students: Read more

University ‘Student Outcomes’ Funding Cut
May 15, 2018
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A number of post-92 English universities will lose a considerable amount of direct teaching funding next year.

The Office for Students announced that funding allocated to prevent disadvantaged students from dropping out of university would be reduced by £30 million to £165 million in 2018-19 for full-time undergraduates.  

This reduction in the “premium to support successful outcomes” is one of the main reasons behind the overall drop. London Metropolitan University, Leeds Beckett University and Manchester Metropolitan University will have their funding cut by over £1 million.

Since the hike in tuition fees in 2012, direct teaching grants have not been as important to universities. Yet they will provide £1.3 billion in revenue to institutions next year.  

Read the Article Here.