Research Should Start before Studies Begin

By Dinsdale, Paul | The Independent (London, England), August 12, 2012 | Go to article overview
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Research Should Start before Studies Begin


Dinsdale, Paul, The Independent (London, England)


With a wealth of information available to parents and students, it pays to get organised long before that pot plant's in the car, says Paul Dinsdale

Over the next few weeks, teenagers and families across the country will be celebrating good A-level results, or commiserating with each other and worrying about the future. Although the number of students who achieve A grades has increased exponentially over the past few years - and some critics say without a corresponding improvement in academic ability - the number of students going to university this autumn will be at near record levels.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) says that there will be 500,000 places available at universities and higher education colleges this year, and they have already received 618,000 applications for a place. Clearly, some students are going to be disappointed about getting in to university in the UK, and may even look abroad for higher education. For instance, universities in the Netherlands have been receiving an increasing number of applications from UK students.

Those who are going to university face an inevitable time of transition, moving from the highly structured and teacher-led environment of sixth-form colleges to the freedom of the university sector, with its emphasis on independent learning and study. It's also a time of change for teenagers who have lived at home and now face having to make all their own decisions about how hard to work, how much to socialise and what else to do with their time as a student.

Since 2006, some fascinating research has been carried out by the Institute of Employment Research at Warwick University, in collaboration with the Higher Education Careers Service Unit in Manchester. The Futuretrack study has followed a cohort of 130,000 students from the time of their application in 2005-06 through to their graduation in 2009, and into employment - or not - afterwards. Researchers initially asked students about the reasons for their choices of course, their plans and the support and guidance they'd been given.

One of the key findings was that a student's motivation to enter higher education and their access to information had a clear impact on their chances of making a successful application and embarking on a suitable course. The findings also revealed that following their courses, most students were broadly happy with their academic experience, but personal finances and the need to undertake paid employment were a continuing concern.

Kate Purcell, professor of employment studies at Warwick University, says: "We found there were wide variations in both students' experience of higher education and the resources available to them, and the access they had to extra-curricular opportunities that being a full-time student provides.

"There was also evidence that students were not making full use of the careers services available to them. A high proportion of those who didn't go into higher education (HE) or who subsequently left it, intended to re-enter HE within the next three years."

Professor Purcell says that students' reasons for entering HE have shifted gradually over the past few years, as the increases in tuition fees have started to bite: "When tuition fees were first introduced as top-up fees, students and their families had to pay around 1,000 per head, but then it reached 3,000 and this year it will rise to as much as 9,000 for most institutions," she says. "This has made students much more aware of what their career options might be after they leave university and they tend to think about the vocational aspects of courses more than previously."

For students who have made their choices and been accepted on to a university course, the next couple of months can make the difference between having a good start at university and finding it a positive experience, and feeling like they've made the wrong choice and not fitting in with the institution, the course, or other students.

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