Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Points make prizes - or Do They?

Friday saw the culmination of years of studying, choosing options and taking mock and actual academic exams for students across England as the A level results were announced. Many young people had logged on early to see whether their grades would get them that much coveted place at university, whilst parents and guardians spent an equally sleepless night. Staff at the Universities Colleges and Admissions Service (UCAS) manned the telephone from dusk until dawn it seemed, answering calls from anxious students who had not quite made the grade. Then finally the news came the report that A level grades were down slightly on last year, but this was apparently in line with central government thinking? Even though, more than a quarter of students who got their results this week obtained A* or A’s, this was reduced for the second year running following the Government’s determination to end “grade inflation.”

Some of the young people interviewed were understandably upset as they did not get the required grades to take up their university places. A few of them may go back to school to retake their qualification and others were hoping to get another offer through the UCAS clearing system. Further anxious times ahead for the prospective university student and their financial support system. In January this year the Government Office for Fair Access published figures showing that within higher education institutions, 64 out of 122 were planning on increasing the average cost of fees by around £900 per student. As a result of increase in university fees there has been a rise in the number of students taking “gap years” to try to earn some money before they return to studying.

Investment in the future 

This has had a knock on effect on the universities themselves as Professor Sir Christopher Snowden, president of Universities UK commented recently. He pointed out that several HE institutions who had previously advertised places requiring grades of A-B now found that they had several courses they could not fill once the exam results came out. Places were then offered to students with C and D grades to ensure courses were not left empty. This followed on from figures published relating to the top 24 “elite” Russell group of universities showing that in September 2012 these institutions had around 11,500 vacancies.

Universities have enjoyed a certain amount of central funding over the years but the world of academia has had to step into the economic recession ring to meet the challenges of the commercial world. Many of them have done so very successfully whilst supporting their student population at the same time. Others have continued to raise their educational fees and then have started to see empty chairs in the lecture halls.

American educationalist Derek Bok once famously said,” if you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” Let’s not be ignorant of the fact that the young people of today are the building blocks of our economic growth in the future. They need to be signposted onto the appropriate courses, vocational programmes, work related qualifications, further and higher educational degrees depending on their abilities, their interests and their potential. They are the consumers of tomorrow but we need to ensure they are not financially and educationally penalised today.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this

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