UCAS Service Advisory Group and Adviser Track Forum – by Helen Kempster

As the ICG representative on the UCAS Service Advisory Group for maintained schools/colleges I attended a very interesting meeting at UCAS in Cheltenham in November.  It was a pleasure to see that many of the ideas that the group had discussed had actually been taken forward by UCAS and become reality.  One thing that came to light was how little the Forum was being used with Adviser Track.  I’d just like to promote this forum to all those in the HE Advisers’ Community as a way to get your thoughts and ideas heard by UCAS.  Minutes of the Service Advisory Group meetings are also posted on there.  The next meeting is in March so if you have any issues/ideas you would like me to take there please let me know by contacting me (Helen Kempster) on hke@ctksfc.ac.uk

Speak to someone about Higher Education – or just look at a website ?

Getting advice about Higher Education is an important thing, but who makes sure the advice students get is impartial and independent?  Lots of people have opinions and thoughts about HE, but how helpful is it with the people giving the advice being trained?  Some people do relevant training via their professional organisation, or by attending university events.  However in Somerset we are putting 10 of our advisers through the new Higher Education Advisers Certificate run and validated by London South Bank University. This is a Masters level programme and builds on the skills and experience of our staff that between them have many years of working at this level.  Indeed we do have staff who already give HE advice to undergraduates and graduates, (via other contracts), but have never been able to have this aptitude certified.  Such an award will be in addition to the specific careers advisory qualifications they already need to be a Careers and Skills Adviser.  At Connexions Somerset we feel it is important to build on the skills of our staff and develop our ability to help people make positive HE choices. As we know Higher Education can be expensive, involve commitment of time, and also applied academic effort, which means that good advice on this option is important to ensure that students can benefit from the opportunity. There was an interesting related article in the Guardian about this whole issue of speaking to someone who is able to offer professional advice and guidance on this area, compared to just looking at some websites and deciding in isolation.  I’m sure all tutors and staff in tertiary institutions would recognise the work entailed in this area.  On a personal level for prospective students I am quite happy for them to look at various web resources, log-on to assorted social networking sites and explore the various message boards that they might find useful, but would always encourage them to speak to someone who can give impartial and unbiased advice as well. In full disclosure Andy Gardner (pictured in this report), Heads up the ICG HE Adviser Community…not that I’m biased of course !  http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/jan/05/higher-education-careers-advice-professional

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. http://www.ucas.tv/index.php?id=28

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.