Choose your University and course by its employability and salary ratings…

Mashup ahoy ! Like a premonition one of the first Mashups to hit the main street has arrived. The HE choice website called http://bestcourse4me.com/ was recently launched.  David Willetts, Shadow Innovation, Universities and Skills Secretary, has been promising this type of web resource since January 2009 and it is now here. Comparing the salary and employment status of different courses and universities might be interesting, but will it help young people make positive career choices. As always what is behind the figures ? A useful summary of some of the surprising results are in this blog http://www.statusq.org/archives/2010/02/24/2739/ which is written by a friend of the websites owners.

 Many issues about this website:-

 It was promoted by David Willetts as being worked on in conjunction with Microsoft, but now promoted as being in conjunction with Ros Smith and Steve Edwards computer entrepreneurs  (Although still listed as contributors there is now no mention of Microsoft on any press release)

David Cameron likes it !  http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/2867656/David-Cameron-backs-website-that-aims-to-get-more-teens-into-university.html  and so does the Sun http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/features/2866157/Education-under-Labour-day-2-Trevor-Kavanaghs-blistering-verdict.html  Must be the first time a website on choosing University courses has made such a splash in which is commonly thought to be Britain’s favourite paper (Copyright Sun Newspapers !)

Introductory Video spoken by Andy McNab (SAS Hero) http://greymansland.com/andymcnabnews/andy-mcnab-articles/andy-mcnab-in-the-sun-my-view-about-a-new-campaign-to-help-more-teens-get-to-university/

 In a strange link the other paper which carried some weighty reporting on it was the Financial Times, which also mentioned the related promise to put the careers service “Back on Track” http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c5b5042a-21ae-11df-acf4-00144feab49a.html  Interesting comments on A level Law being “less than ideal” for top universities…

 With the push this website will get from the press,(or at least certain sections of the media), and its apparent value in working out which course provides the biggest bang for your buck, be aware of this website as you, or your colleagues, will be asked about it before too long !

 Obvious questions to ask include:-

 Will this resource help prospective students make better career choices in HE ? Or add even more to the confusion felt by some students and parents ?

What about the needs of the mature student, do these figures apply to them in equal number ?

Is being able to talk through such results still necessary or can students just use the website to choose their course, as recently suggested by John Morgan, president of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/jan/05/higher-education-careers-advice-professional ?  (although to be fair I do understand that the reporting of his comments do not reflect his actual view and might have had some undue emphasis put on them which did not support their use)

One obvious problem is that 6 months a not really a valid time interval to get anything clear and positive about graduate career paths across all professions and areas. In fact according to this resource if you want to be employed after your degree Media Studies is a much better bet that Chemistry… Although obviously as an adviser I would not be letting such a result go by without putting some serious balance on it.

 This is one issue I think we need to be aware of. It is what Angela McFarlane of Bristol Uni has termed ‘techno-romanticism’. Briefly summarised as ‘give the students the tools and they can fly because they are all Digital Natives’. Sometimes the more traditional skills in Careers work are still valuable and can be transferred to the digital area.  Some of the approaches might need to be changed such as networking skills and how they are used comparing the approach of face-to-face to screen-to-screen. (or phone-to-phone !). However we cannot put the genie back in the bottle and Web 2.0 careers advice will be part of the future mix.

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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

8 sources of finance for University study

As an adviser I’m often asked about what financial help is available for students wishing to study at University. Although the main resource is Student Finance England there are other sources which are often missed. So in the best tradition of top ten lists, (even though there are only 8 in this case), here are the top 8 sources of finance we need to ensure is considered and explored.

1. Loan for Maintenance

2. Maintenance Grant

3. Bursary

4. Scholarship

5. Job (both before the student begins study and also issues re: part-time whilst studying)

6. Family (often known as the Bank of Mum and Dad but can include other people)

7. Savings/Borrowings

8. Sponsorship

Even if students are aware of some of these resources it is always work checking how much they can get and the costs of paying any loan back. In recent research people commonly underestimate the maximum value of loan and overestimate future repayments. Bursaries and Scholarships are another area where many people are unaware of what is available. To find out what students could get go to http://www.direct.gov.uk/studentfinancecalculator where it is possible to can find out what each University could offer.  The issue with Sponsorships are that they can be difficult to obtain and some companies now prefer to offer them to students after their first year of Uni study.  They also tend to be in certain areas, such as the Military, which can be an ethical issue for some students or in specific occupation fields such as Engineering. Packages on offer can be excellent and not just focused on money, (management training and career exploration can also be part of the package), but I do encourage students to check out the commitment involved and ensure they realise and are happy with what will be required as their side of the deal.  If you want to read more about this whole issue of finance and HE an interesting recent report is “The Role of Finance in the Decision-making of Higher Education Applicants and Students” – you can download a copy from the link below http://www.dius.gov.uk/~/media/publications/B/BIS-RP-009

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.

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.