Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

University Challenge: How to Advise Wisely

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

University Challenge: How to Advise Wisely

Article excerpt

t's a decision that can change the course of a young life, so make sure your students have all the facts about higher education

Few educational experiences are more mythologised than university. Young minds often harbour more fiction than fact on all aspects of higher education, from the educational and social to the financial - in large part owing to misrepresentations of university life in films, television and even from their peers.

This makes October, the month when the university application process begins in earnest, a particularly tricky time in schools. Whether and where a student applies can often depend on the opinion of those they trust the most: their teachers. This means you have a responsibility to cut through the misinformation and present the reality. That is no easy task.

The process is made all the more difficult by the unprecedented level of change that universities are experiencing. Many criticisms once levelled at the higher education sector are simply no longer true. The rise in tuition fees has been a significant shift, but lots of other changes have taken place recently.

First, there is the issue of competition. Teachers are regularly faced with students who claim that they won't get in because of the fierce competition for places. But universities are now more accessible than ever. Controls on the number of students that individual universities can admit have been progressively removed over the past three years. In 2015, the cap will be lifted altogether and universities will seek to recruit as many students as they can.

Other key complaints, particularly after the rise in fees, relate to out-of-date facilities and a lack of contact teaching time. With regard to the former, an amenities arms race has resulted in billions of pounds being spent on improving and upgrading facilities. Libraries, laboratories, lecture theatres, halls of residence, sports facilities and study areas across the country have all had major makeovers.

As for the level of contact time, universities have placed a far greater priority on teaching in recent years. In-service training and the dissemination of good practice, within and between universities, is now commonplace. As well as an increase in face-to-face experience, more attention is being given to helping students study more productively. The use of technology to enhance learning - an area where many universities used to lag behind schools - is also improving.

Despite these advances, it's not all good news. It is still early days for the market-led reforms in higher education and the shock of change is still working its way through the system.

The first students to pay £9,000 a year in tuition fees have yet to graduate. Their perceptions of the value of a university education will be interesting to track, not least to gauge whether work-study options, such as apprenticeships, become more attractive in the future.

In the midst of all this uncertainty, what should prospective students and their teachers keep in mind when considering higher education in 2015?

It is more than a route into employment

Never underestimate the value of a university education. It is true that a degree can enhance employment and earning prospects, but studying at university is also a worthwhile end in itself. Nothing beats the satisfaction of grappling with a subject at an advanced level and attaining mastery of it. It is an old-fashioned idea, perhaps, but is one that prospective students should understand.

Be realistic with choices

Teachers should advise students to keep their options open and make realistic Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) choices. …

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