Reflections on Clearing…and the future for Graduates

This has been a strange time. Those sections of the media most scathing about the mass influx of young people into Higher Education have been outraged that suitability qualified young people can’t get into University.  We have had the somewhat traditional “Qualifications arn’t what they used to be in my day” leader articles or news reports. This has included our local radio station interviewing a local employer who finds current graduates so very poor he now recruits from Warsaw University instead. I’ve also had the contents of this article about a young man who was awarded a certificate for getting on a bus mentioned more than once, although it is interesting it gathered 247 comments on this one website, let alone the other papers which reported it.  We’ve also had the spectre of no jobs for graduates mentioned in the press this month. Again recruitment of graduates  does seem to be far more mixed than some of the press reports would lead you to believe.  As someone who has been through recessions before, this is not unusual. However the press coverage would lead you to believe that there are not any opportunitys for a graduate in the UK…well maybe I exaggerate slightly. I’ll be glad when the press have some more news to get their teeth into. Thought that Dr Wendy Piatt of the Russell Group made some valid points when she was interviewed about this issue. Also there is an interesting blog posting by Charlie Ball of HECSU about Graduate employment issues at the HECSU blog

Clearing – adventures in Media Land

It’s that time so beloved by the press, politicians and general experts of all hues, the annual exam results period. I’ve been interviewed on various local radio stations for this event, and dealt with the challengeof speaking in sound bites rather than give a full, but probably too long for the radio, answer to questions. I’ve also recording a Pod-cast on our website about this time covering most things from getting the exam letter, opening the envelope celebrating (or commiserating),  and answering some of the more common questions people have about clearing and what to do next. There is lots to say and do right now, and although we stayed open late on this and next Thursday, (and we are open late every Tuesday anyway), clearing does continue for several weeks and in fact the rush to “sort something out” quickly can be a difficult choice. As always the advice must be to talk to someone either where the student has studied and is known, or at a suitable guidance organisation, where all options can be considered and plans can be reviewed. I do feel like offering Good Luck to everyone who has their results at this time, whilst being aware that students on vocational courses had their results several weeks ago.

UCAS Confirmation and Clearing Article from Alan Bullock

UCAS Confirmation and Clearing is going to be a volatile market-place this year. While the majority of applicants will still be successful in achieving their Firm Choice university place, it is estimated that more than 20,000 will be left without a place at all.

In previous years advisers were able to reassure a lot of students that, even if they fell slightly short of the grades or points they needed for their Firm Choice university, their place might still be confirmed. This was because admissions tutors would sometimes prefer to honour applicants who had shown a commitment to their university, rather than take students with marginally higher grades through Clearing. This will still happen to some students this year but, with the capping of university places following an increase in applications, the overall situation will be much more acute.

 In my view there isn’t going to be a one-size-fits-all approach when advising students whose results have been disappointing. For some it will be a case of staying calm, weighing up the situation and perhaps taking a year out to reflect and re-orientate themselves. On the other hand there will be others for whom an alternative offer from their Firm or Insurance Choice university, or a place at a different university that comes up in UCAS Clearing, may still provide a good solution. Taking decisive action to change to a different university or different course can be risky, but equally it could be one of those turning points in life that leads to a successful outcome. It really comes down to personal circumstances and preferences.

 The situation becomes more difficult for those students who are only prepared to go to a narrow range of universities that they perceive to be prestigious, especially if the course they want to study is one of those that is popular and over-subscribed. Flexibility can be a big advantage. My own son attended a university that was 60th in the league tables for one of the subjects in his Combined Honours degree and 102nd for the other. Despite this he had a great time, worked hard, gained a respectable degree and has been in secure employment ever since. So the ‘best university’ for an individual student is not necessarily the one with the prestigious ‘reputation’ or the one that’s near the top of the league tables.

 One other factor that raises its head every August is whether an applicant took care when selecting his or her Insurance Choice. For some the Insurance Choice will be their lifeline, provided it was selected carefully in the first place.

 If you are one of those students whose results have been disappointing, try not to be too despondent. Seek advice and then be prepared to adopt any two of the following four approaches: be positive, be decisive, be patient or be flexible. The vast majority of you will re-orientate yourselves successfully, either straight away or after taking some time to reflect.

Is the Adjustment Period a waste of time? – Opinion Piece by Andy Gardner

Opinion from Andy Gardner JFS and LSU Schools and ICG HE Advisers Community Moderator

 So we have the introduction of this five-day period when applicants can supposedly trade up on what they already hold. For a range of opinions on this, go to this film from UCAS, which presents a very good balanced view in my opinion of what different admissions staff, feel about the adjustment period.

My concerns about the adjustment period are these:  All the evidence shows that schools and colleges tend to over-predict not under-predict, so numbers of applicants that will “do better” will in my experience be minimal.  However if an applicant thinks that they now have made a wrong choice and have found a vacancy that they can trade up to great!

Vacancies as a far as I know are not being kept to one side for the adjustment period.  It seems they can only trade up to vacancies that existed anyway.  So it seems a applicant that was predicted BBB and applied for something popular e.g. English, who then gets AAA will not be able to trade up to English at a highly selective university because it seems vacancies have not been set aside.  “If the adjustment period doesn’t apply for all courses, what’s the point!” This last point was made by one of my students at a Clearing and Confirmation talk just before they took their exams.

I’m willing to be proved wrong but the adjustment period in its present form looks of limited use.

Repayment holiday for Student Loans is now only 2 years, not 5

Still on the subject of the extra 10,000 places, which has certainly gathered a lot of comments, one issue seems to have been missed. Or perhaps drowned out in the worry and concerns that are said about both Clearing and also lack of opportunties for new graduates. The fact that the repayment period has changed from 5 years to just 2 is a big change. This was seen as useful because it allowed students to focus on other financial issues (if they choose to), before having to begin repayments on their loans if they were earning enough. It will be interesting to see if this has any impact on students and their plans, but certainly some parents are aware of this issue.  If  Martin Lewis, of fame has concerns that the student loan scheme is being chipped away bit by bit then it must be something to consider.

10,000 extra university places – but no money to teach them

Currently the 10,000 extra Uni places are bring promoted as part of the governments response to the pressures that people believe we will experience when Clearing comes around. However the fact that the Unis will not be getting any teaching grant will have an interesting effect on who will actually be offering such places. On the one hand those universities who traditionally recruit students through clearing might well feel this could help them, whilst those who recruit fewer, if any, students via this route might feel less inclined. Obviously this has not escaped the notice of business people Indeed if you look at Annex B from HEFCEs letter which shows which Unis are getting the extra places it does tend to support this concern.  I understand this is because some of those Unis who are not taking any additional students claim it is because there income would be reduced by £5,000 per student under this initiative, and they do not feel they could manage to maintain undergraduate quality in this case without undermining their work. Powerful words and it will be interesting to see how this might be countered by those Unis who do manage to take on these extra students.

Goodbye exams – Hello continuous e-assessment

As we get ready for the words to flow from all sides as the time for Clearing gets nearer I find the comments by Simon Lebus, chief executive of Cambridge Assessment, thought provoking to say the least. In brief he is saying that within the next 10 to 15 years we shall be saying goodbye to the old exam structure and moving toward a continuous assessment (ca) using e-technology for all exams.  As advisers I expect that we have all dealt with students who, despite producing good work, find sitting exams so stressful that it can seriously impact their grades. It will be interesting to see how this progresses as the classic “sit down and write for 3 hours” exam is often seen as a final quality proof of the work that a student has taken in and can use to answer the questions set.  Thinking of some of the feeling towards ca we have seen so far it will not be a technical issue, but rather one of political perception.. It has been said that the current Government has concerns about ca and would like to look at  introducing “controlled assessment”, which could be done in school and supervised like exams, while the Conservatives are reported as wishing to go return to the high stakes final exams that were traditional, as they feel the continuous assessment approach has lost confidence with people