Don’t Panic – about money for University !

A lot of people are looking at their options for higher education, and the issue of cost is sure to be on the top concern of many. It is important to ensure that students look at the range of support that may be available and don’t just look at one source, or indeed rely on what someone is saying who may not be aware of all the options.  I always suggest students check both with the adviser/tutor and the university they are considering if they have any questions on this factor. Money worries shouldn’t stop anyone going to University according to the Government, but like all things that are important in life students need to devote some time to checking everything out.  As an adviser you can get an idea of issues, but we don’t have time to check all the finance issues for every student at every possible university within the time we have available.  Concern about the cost of higher education is the number one reason that people who have applied to university do not enter HE, and as advisers we need to ensure that this is approached with as much seriousness as the actual choice of University degree. Of course in other countries such as the USA this has always been the case, but it is fairly new to us in the UK and the perception of this, certainly amongst some groups of applicants, does require work. Although Student Finance England is one port of call, it is not the only resource to use. Of course those of us who work in the independent sector already work with people who are aware that education isn’t ‘free’, but this also has issues and aspects that need working on.

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Does a pre–HE student receiving Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) have a clear idea of funding for University ?

Those of us who are dealing with students currently receiving EMA financial support and looking to go onto University may be confused about how this financial support would carry on at Uni.  Originally the Government plan was that if a student was already receiving EMA then they would automatically get a grant to study at University – this was the HESSG or Higher Education Student Support Grant.  Indeed as an adviser we were told to make sure that all EMA recipients were aware of the HESSG and it was seen as a key indicator of support for students in this financial situation to go onto Uni.  To a lot less publicity this policy has now been changed and although the government is committed to any student already receiving EMA progressing onto HE, they will need to go through the financial assessment again. According to the Minister this has been done to ensure that those people whose financial situation has improved since the original assessment are treated fairly as other people applying to Uni.  Although they do say that if the applicants’ circumstances are unchanged from the original EMA assessment then they will get a clear quote of the financial support they can expect.  In light of the fact that perceived financial worries are the biggest factor between students applying and actually attending university this would seem to be another example of Government change affecting what we have been told to promote.  Goodbye HESSG apparently! For more information contact Student Finance England http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/EducationAndLearning/UniversityAndHigherEducation/StudentFinance/Gettingstarted/DG_171577

Student finance debacle – comment by John Beckett

Isn’t this the final sign that ‘we’ never really meant it when ‘we’ proclaimed Widening Participation as the way to get rid of the historic imbalances and inequalities in our higher education admissions? The very students who have been encouraged to realise their potential and who need the financial support that exists are the same ones suffering the most in this scandal to the extent that some are leaving university after just a few weeks; unable to borrow from parents, unable to basically get by. Not that it will be easy to access accurate figures on early dropouts so it will be difficult for the media to get the true data in this debacle. How have such delays and such miscalculations on numbers (when it was apparent from published UCAS stats all along how many intended going to university this year) been allowed to happen? Why was the online system not trialled effectively? Is the Students Loans Company chronically understaffed – not fit for purpose? We’re already into the next cycle – it can’t happen again. An enquiry into all this must occur. Sooner than that, as has been said elsewhere, heads must roll as it’s too late for this year’s cohort – the damage has irretrievably been done. And what on earth has David Lammy, of all people, been doing overseeing such a shambles. Many of his constituents are amongst those worst affected. A truly depressing portent for the imminent tuition fees debate.

HE opportunities after access courses for Adults

I attended the recent higher education opportunities day for adults who had completed their access courses in Somerset this week. Excellent day with 10 providers of HE attending, Universities such as Bath, Bristol and Plymouth etc plus those FE colleges offering HE, such as Trowbridge College which offers a BSc in Social Work. A good buzz about the day and it was interesting to hear people’s journeys which had taken them to this place. Spoke with prospective HE students from 18 years of age to… well a bit older (!) and it did remind me of the true value of the work we all do.  Got a nice writeup in the local paper which might encourage more adults to explore this as an option. http://www.chardandilminsternews.co.uk/news/4709099.Student_boost_from_university_open_day/

Perhaps this type of event could be make into more of an awareness raising event for local communities wherever it takes place. Good to see so many HEIs coming into the community. I do realise many do this but unless you see it yourself it is easy to forget what happens. After the exciting side of choosing possible careers that some HE options might lead to, the big issue was funding and how it might be managed alongside the other circumstances of the students. Hopefully the advice they received from the various attendees  would have helped them to answer these questions.

What to expect from a Careers Interview…

One thing that seems to be endemic in most of the discussion about careers advice is, often without too much qualification, how rubbish it was. Indeed  this can be reported by everyone from cabinet ministers downwards without much argument or moderation. One interesting report on this area of careers was carried out by Edge Hill University in a project funded by HEFCE on how working class undergraduates made their decision. One of the fascinating aspects I found was the session on “Reversing previous experience of Careers”,  as they said in their report “It emerged that contact at school or college had been patchy, and was not always with qualified careers advisers. The workshops enabled staff to de-bunk misconceptions, and explain the differences between university and school careers provision. To enhance students’ perception of a quality service, staff placed greater emphasis on publicising the regional and national awards gained by the Careers Centre.”

The whole report is worth reading http://www.prospectsnet.com/cms/ShowPage/Home_page/Main_Menu___News_and_information/Graduate_Market_Trends_2008/Working_Class_Students__the_Career_Decision_Making_Process_and_Employability__Autumn_08_/p!ebXXXdd and perhaps will be reflected on when the discussion of careers advice again is raised on the political agenda.

 

‘Mickey Mouse’ degrees? – Perhaps Mr Disney will be happier now

One of the enduring quips that we experience in our guidance work is the duel pressure of widening and broadening students knowledge and understanding of the HE options, against the more traditional approach of doing a ‘traditional’ degree and a ‘respected’ university.  Any attempts to show the range of HE courses can be met with the “Mickey Mouse” degree refrain quite easily in my experience. Apart from the fact that Mr Disney had build a considerable business empire and thus seems a unusual candidate for such negative pressure, recently I have noticed a change within this area as some people recognise that the vocationally focused degrees might, just might, have some relevance.  I’m not sure if this is down to the recession and the decrease in more traditional ‘blue chip’ employers offering vacancies as mentioned by the AGR, or if the finance and banking implosion has caused some to revaluate their world views. I guess this became fact for me after a recent edition of the Sunday Times which carried a positive article on them stating that “Far from being worthless, the more unusual degrees are proving a hit with employers”.  http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/education/article6829650.ece

Although there have been other articles in a similar vein on other papers I believe the Times one stood out for me at I can still remember the “Scandal of the Mickey Mouse degree rip-off” headline from 2003 referencing it to the comments of Margaret Hodge, higher-education minister at the time http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/career_and_jobs/senior_executive/article1099107.ece and the concern this caused students, and their parents,  who were looking at vocationally focused degrees. Interestingly the reason that the Universities mentioned by Ms Hodge felt that students were not completing their Uni courses was down to funding, and issue which will only gain greater prominence as we move into the bright new future of raising more money from student fees and the implications of that activity.

What other subjects areas are Strategically important ?

One thing that has brought out into clear focus with the extra 10,000 places is the key role that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), has to play on a strategic level for the future  economic health of the country, indeed this extra funding is to support the governments Policy Statement on  “Building Britain’s Future – New Industry, New Jobs”. As the press release says this is to “identifies key areas where Government action can have most impact, investing in growth to speed recovery and building manufacturing and services essential to ensure British people and businesses can compete successfully for the jobs of the future.”  You can read it in full here http://www.dius.gov.uk/~/media/publications/N/new_industry_new_jobs.  Whilst this is all good stuff there are shades of gray within the range of STEM subjects anyway, for example do we really need to increase the number of students studying Forensic Science at University beyond the numbers already heading into this subject ?  My other concern is that many people I speak with seem unaware that STEM is not the only game in town when it comes to strategically important subjects. Briefly the other ones are Area Studies and Related languages (covering the Arab World, China, Japan, Eastern Europe inc Russia),   Quantitative social science and finally Modern Foreign Languages.  Should these areas also benefit from more places or greater promotion ?  If you want to explore these in more depth it is worth checking them out at this report, which also gives some LMI on the salary you can expect in these fields http://www.hefce.ac.uk/aboutus/sis/SIVS_glossy.pdf