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Focus Universities The higher education


reforms will force young people to think carefully about what they want


“ ” If the reforms pan out properly, it should


end up weeding out some of the courses that aren’t worthy of university status


for some of our girls this summer, I noticed there were six places offering degrees in watersports. I can understand a professional qualification and the practical need for one, but I cannot understand the need for a degree in watersports. Now if these higher education reforms pan out properly, it should end up weeding out some of the courses that aren’t really worthy of university status and that, in turn, could move to more investment in high-level courses that really stretch the mind.”


that are facing a problem as they go forward on their student numbers. Because many of them [newer universities] have priced themselves in the same way as the research-intensive universities…it can be difficult to see what their competitive edge is.”


In a move to discourage universities from charging the maximum of £9,000 per year, the Government has proposed allocating 20,000 student places (which will be effectively taken away from other universities) to those institutions charging an average fee of £7, 500 or less. Although intended to create a fairer system, for many students it is a lose-lose situation. “In a strange way, it actually reduces student choice. So, for example, you’ve got a student who was predicated three As and got one A and two Bs, they’re actually going to be quite restricted.” The impact of this increased competition between universities is likely to filter down to schools, says Aaron Porter, education consultant and former NUS president. “Whereas lots of schools left it to pupils and their parents to navigate through the university application process, schools will now need to offer better advice than before. That could be offering better advice on what sort of A levels allow you to progress to subjects like medicine, other science subjects or economics at degree level, or making sure the combination of A-level choices gives you the best chance to continue in education.” But competition isn’t necessarily bad, says Helen Wright, head teacher of St Mary’s Calne School in Wiltshire and president of the Girls’ School Association. She thinks the higher education reforms will force young people to think very carefully about whether they actually want – or need - to go to university at all. “When I was looking at clearing


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Increased competition should also force universities to “up their game” in terms of delivering value for money. Porter predicts students will become much more discerning customers, particularly where it comes to data on graduate employment and earnings – and information on how their fees are being spent. There has long been a suspicion that students on courses like English, history and philosophy end up subsidising students in science subjects (which are generally more expensive to run), he says, and when students are paying more than £9,000 a year for their education,“that just won’t be palatable.” But in their quest to provide better value-for-money, Lygo thinks many universities could end up misdirecting their resources. He points to the recent student experience survey carried out by the NUS and HSBC, which found that the majority of students simply want





British students could be heading to Scandinavia due to cheaper fees


Autumn 2011 FirstEleven 39


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