Category Archives: universities



Look at the facilitating subjects-they do help


Its worth reminding ourselves, just occasionally, that Universities are independent and autonomous organisations and so are responsible for their own admissions decisions. The social mobility and access agendas, and the work of the access regulator OFFA can sometimes muddy the water on this issue.

It has been made clear by Russell Group universities (ie the self-appointed elite) that if you want to maximise your chances of admission to their universities they rate some qualifications as more rigorous and robust than others. The term  Facilitating subjects  is now often used when discussing admissions to HEIs.

Facilitating subjects are a group of subjects that the Russell group of universities identified in their Informed Choices publication that are usually considered to be helpful and/or required for particular courses at their universities. Informed Choices says that pupils need ‘ to have clear information about how the subjects that they choose to study in the sixth form or at college  can affect their options at university and their chances in life. That way, they can make well-informed decisions.’

Such openness and transparency by universities can, it is thought, help applicants and advisers understand the prior qualifications needed or preferred by applicants to specific courses.

Informed Choices says.. ‘some university courses may require you to have studied a specific subject prior to entry, others may  not. However, there are some subjects that are required more often than others. These subjects are sometimes referred to as facilitating subjects’.

Subjects that can be viewed as ‘facilitating’ subjects are:

• Mathematics and Further Mathematics

• English (Literature)

• Physics

• Biology

• Chemistry

• Geography

• History

• Languages (Classical and Modern)


Informed Choices -a Russell Group Guide to Making Decisions about Post 16 Education-  2012




A new report the ‘National Strategy for Access and  Student Success; Interim report to the Department for Business,  Innovation and Skills by the  Higher Education Funding Council for England  and the Office for Fair Access   identifies, interalia , a major  area of concern  in relation to  easing access to higher education for the most disadvantaged pupils-  namely ‘the changes that came into effect in September 2012 to careers education and guidance.’ In short, schools were given  statutory responsibility for providing access for their pupils  to good quality independent careers  guidance.

The report states ‘The Education Act 2011 ends the statutory requirements for local authorities to deliver a universal careers service to young  people. Schools have instead been placed under a statutory duty to secure careers advice but have not been given any additional funding to do so. The requirement to provide careers education has also been removed.’ The report then identifies evidence reflecting these concerns. It states ‘A report by the Work Foundation argues that ‘without careers education, careers guidance is reduced to an abrupt and isolated intervention’. They urge that ‘careers education should be embedded in the curriculum as early as primary schools and expanded on with age’

The report continues ‘ In its evidence to the Education Select Committee in October 2012, the Institute of  Careers Guidance said of the guidance offered to young people:

a. There is no overall coherence of career guidance provision whatsoever for young people up to 18.

b. For young people in schools, provision is a postcode lottery subject to budgets and head-teachers’ commitment to independent, impartial career guidance.

c. The service in schools is at best restricted in terms of student coverage and  limited to the 30 weeks of term-time provision. In the past, students and parents  have always appreciated the opportunity to access independent career guidance  during school holidays. Now, at these times, it is not possible to access independent career guidance without payment.

d. E-mail correspondence between the Association of South East Colleges and  the Skills Funding Agency has highlighted that the National Careers Service website excludes a range of courses offered by colleges of further education that are   not funded by the Skills Funding Agency.

e. Young people between 16 and 18 who are in employment but wish to  change direction or develop their career prospects do not have access to any  independent face-to-face careers guidance service without payment

Furthermore, in its report of 2011, the International Centre for Guidance Studies argued that the situation for schools was challenging as they adapt to the loss of  Aimhigher, Business Education Partnerships and the erosion of the Connexions service.

The centre argues that ‘the removal of the statutory duty to provide careers education  could result in a focus on “activities” rather than on a developmental curriculum’

Crucially, this National Strategy for Access and Student Success report says  in Para 145 pg 51 :

‘ In light of such concerns, we anticipate that the final report may recommend that a  greater governmental focus on issues of advice and guidance within schools and  colleges will be important in terms of maximising the return on investment in widening  participation to HE. The strategy will also explore how HE can most effectively engage in  supporting good information, advice and guidance (IAG) concerning HE in schools and  colleges in the new environment.’


Experts agree that face to face careers  guidance from an independent, qualified professional   is, more often than not,  the best form of  careers advice and  this is particularly the case for the most disadvantaged pupils. A number of reports, including those mentioned above, stress the importance  of easy access to high quality advice.  This will help ensure  that pupils  are better equipped to make  informed choices  regarding  the pathways into further and  higher education , training and work as well as  improving  access to higher education for the most disadvantaged pupils  and in  advancing  the governments social mobility agenda.While government guidance encourages face to face advice, where appropriate, it is left to schools to decide the  type  and scope of advice they will offer to their pupils.Given that there is no ring fenced funding for this advice , experts believe that schools, under budgetary pressure ,will opt for cheaper, lower quality  forms of  advice ie telephone advice and access  to advice through a web portal. The new National Careers Service is focused mainly on the needs of  adults.

Note 2

From September 2012, the Education Act 2011 placed schools under a duty to secure access to independent and impartial careers guidance for their pupils in years 9-11. The Careers Guidance in Schools Regulations 2013 will extend the age range to which the duty applies. From September 2013, the duty will be extended to include all registered pupils in year 8 (12-13 year olds) and years 12 and 13 (16-18 year olds).

Note 3

A  CIPD survey this month finds that parents and pupils are not getting sufficient or appropriate  advice in schools  on Apprenticeship options, which affects their take up and credibility.The survey – Employee Outlook: Focus on Apprenticeships – looked at responses from more than 400 employees with children under the age of 18. It found two-thirds of parents believed apprenticeships were a good career option, yet, only 15 per cent of them thought  school teachers gave   their children  enough information about them as an alternative to a university education.



Could   they help UK Universities select students more fairly?


Universities are keen to ensure that they have a clear idea of a students potential in deciding admissions and not simply to rely on exam results.  Measuring potential is not easy and cant really be done by looking at a students application (UCAS) form, contrary to the claims made by some admissions tutors.

They have looked across the Atlantic for inspiration  looking in particular at the SAT  aptitude test (the SAT Reasoning TestTM) as a tool in the selection of candidates for admission to higher education (HE) either as a standalone tool or one used in conjunction with GCSEs and AS/A2 levels  to determine admissions.

SAT are multiple-choice tests required for admission by several top US universities (although they are not the only test available). It is sometime assumed  that SATs are similar to GCSEs or A levels . They are not. They are basically  IQ tests designed to measure potential rather than to measure what you have learned  at school.

So if SAT tests are supposed to measure potential, do they do this effectively? There is much debate about this.  However, given that a cottage industry  has developed in tutoring students to help them pass  the SAT there  are grounds for doubting  that the tests truly measure potential.  SAT questions are quite particular and the skills to answer them are not often taught in schools. Hence the  cottage industry ,selling textbooks and extra tuition Students wanting to take SATs must usually register independently, pay for the test and travel to an SAT test centre. For rural students, the nearest location may be  some distance And then there is the problem of revising. Poorer students inevitably are disadvantaged.

In the UK, back in 2005, the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) was commissioned to evaluate the potential value of using an the SAT Reasoning TestTM as an additional tool in the selection of candidates for admission to higher education (HE). This five-year study was co-funded by the Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills (BIS), the NFER, the Sutton Trust and the College Board. The primary aim of the study was to examine whether the addition of the SAT® alongside A levels is better able to predict HE participation and outcomes than A levels alone. And  whether it  might help identify students with the potential to benefit from higher education whose ability is not adequately reflected in their prior attainment.

The study found that of  the prior attainment measures, average A level points score is the best predictor of HE participation and degree class, followed by average GCSE points score. The inclusion of GCSE information adds usefully to the predictive power of A levels. In the absence of other data, the SAT® has some predictive power but it does not add any additional information, over and above that of GCSEs and A levels (or GCSEs alone), at a significantly useful level. But  could the SAT® identify economically or educationally disadvantaged students with the potential to benefit from HE whose ability is not adequately reflected in their A level results; and  could the SAT®  distinguish helpfully between the most able applicants who get straight A grades at A level.

The study  also found ‘no evidence that the SAT® provides sufficient information to identify students with the potential to benefit from higher education whose ability is not adequately reflected in their prior attainment.’

In addition  ‘the SAT® does not distinguish helpfully between the most able applicants who get three or more A grades at A level. The SAT® Reading and Writing components do add some predictive power for some classes of degree at highly selective universities, but add very little beyond the information provided by prior attainment, in particular prior attainment at GCSE.’

So it is pretty safe to conclude that the SAT is no panacea for measuring student potential and would have limited utility for Higher Education Institutions in this country to help them design a fairer admissions process that fully takes into account an applicants potential.

Use of an aptitude test in university entrance: a validity study Final Report-3 December 2010- NFER-Sutton Trust




The latest High Fliers study suggests the top employer of new graduates in 2013 is Teach First, with 1,260 vacancies, followed by the consultancy firms Deloitte and PwC, planning to hire 1,200 new graduates each. Teach First, inspired by an American scheme, recruits top graduates into teaching and supports them to ‘ raise the achievement, aspirations and access to opportunity of pupils from low socio-economic backgrounds.’ The trainees join its Leadership Development Programme which involves teaching for a minimum of two years, achieving a PGCE and wider leadership skills training. After the two years, more than half the graduates  continue to teach within schools in low-income communities, with many moving into middle and senior leadership positions. Those who don’t stay in teaching have acquired useful skills that they can use throughout their careers but have also developed an understanding of teachers and teaching that may help raise the status of the profession.

Research from Aston University confirms the conclusion from the High Fliers report (Jan 14) that graduates need work experience while at university to stand a better chance of gaining graduate employment. The study shows that placement courses can double a student’s employment prospects. Yet fewer placement courses are currently being offered by universities.



 Young people still  receiving inadequate advice on education choices


Mckinsey have just published an important report ‘Education to Employment’  that seeks to identify why there is such a gap between what businesses and employers  want, and need, and what education systems provide. Around the world, governments and businesses face a conundrum: high levels of youth unemployment and a shortage of job seekers with critical skills. How can a country successfully move its young people from education to employment? What are the challenges? Which interventions work? How can these be scaled up? Almost 40 percent of employers say a lack of skills is the main reason for entry-level vacancies. If employers are not confident that the system delivers what they want, young people  it appears  also lack confidence in the system.  Half of youth are not sure that their post -secondary education has improved their chances of finding a job. Youth unemployment rates are unacceptably high as is the number of young people   who are not in education, employment or training

It has become received wisdom that businessmen need students with more practical vocational skills. While vocational education appears to be a good solution for policymakers, it has, in fact, low or lesser perceived value among students.

This was an important finding. The research compared student “perceptions of value” between traditional education and vocational education and apprentice programmes. In the research every country values traditional education over vocational education except for Germany.. Germany, of course, is a country regarded as something of a model when it comes to practical skills and vocational programmes, with a myriad of apprentice-based programmes and it  has among the lowest  youth unemployment rates in Europe.

Unfortunately, even there vocational programmes are not always seen as the answer. 23% of students who attended vocational programmes there felt they attended the wrong institution, and 42% are unsure they took the right programme. This  is hardly encouraging.

The report also highlights, more generally, the fact that young people are not getting the advice they need at a crucial time of their lives. The report states ‘they face the daunting task of choosing what to study and where to study it. The evidence is distressing:  way too many young people take a wrong turn here.  Fewer than half of those surveyed are confident that if they had to do it again, they would study the same subject. That’s a lot of disappointment; it’s also a sign that students don’t have the information they need to make the right choices.’

In short ,Youth are not well informed when making   educational and career  choices .

The report continues ‘Some 40 percent of youth report that they were not familiar with the market conditions and requirements even for well-known professions such as teachers or doctors. Without this understanding, many students choose courses half blindly, without a vision of whether there will be a demand for their qualifications upon graduation.’ Sounds familiar?

Politicians wax eloquent about social mobility and the importance of making informed choices at critical points in life. Yet a majority of young people do not have access to high quality, independent advice. They might have an ambition, for example, to go to university but  then fail to take the qualifications that they need to achieve this, because they know no better aged 13 and there is nobody there to support them. Its not rocket science. Social mobility cant and wont improve if so many young people  don’t make the choices that maximise their potential. Until politicians grasp this nettle ,nothing will change.



Oxbridge and Snobbery

Ebdon may have a point


Les Ebdon’s comments about snobbery in the choice of HE institutions prompted attacks from Lord Adonis and Nick Gibb this week. Did they have a point?

The idea that some pupils don’t want to go to Oxbridge seems to escape many who promote better access.  It is also true that the Sutton Trust ,certainly initially, seemed to imply that open access was  all about getting disadvantaged  pupils into Oxbridge. Their approach now,to be fair , is  much more inclusive.

There are plenty of pupils who want to study a particular course, which is not available in Oxbridge. Camilla Cavendish made a good point in the Times this week on this score. For what  its  worth, and I think long and hard before bringing my personal experience to bear on any issue, I didn’t  sit Oxbridge entrance because I wanted to study political violence and terrorism (sad, but true) and neither Oxford nor Cambridge offered any course that was  remotely relevant. I went  to Exeter, instead, and my tutor, a former general   was, at the time ,the leading expert in the UK on the subject  I  had no regrets, but I cant vouch for him! Cavendish, drawing from her personal experience,  in the Times on 5 December wrote ,interalia:

‘My niece has just finished at a sixth-form college where, along with a few other pupils, she decided to apply for Oxford after an academic from there came to visit. Five were offered a place but three of them decided not to go. When I asked why, they said they hadn’t been intimidated by the quads and spires but they preferred other courses. One wanted to do languages at Leeds because “it has the best reputation for translators”. The next preferred to read English at Glasgow because the syllabus was less prescriptive. Another wanted to go to Manchester inspired by Professors Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov, the Nobel prize winners who discovered graphene there. They’d all made mature decisions, based on their passions and their potential rather than being swayed by pushy parents.

It is probably worth noting that, for the first time in living memory, the red bricked Manchester University has more Nobel Prize winners on its staff than either Oxford – which has none – or Cambridge, which has two.

Time for less snobbery?


Education exports hit by migration policy

A policy that works against the national economic recovery has to change-surely?

Don’t bet on it


Edmund Lazarus, is a founding partner of City private equity company Bregal Capital which set up private schools company Cognita, with Chris Woodhead, in 2004.  Lazarus is passionate about education and has very good contacts and access in the higher echelons of government. He is a friend and staunch supporter of Michael Gove ,the Education Secretary, and his reforms. State educated, Lazarus, who gained a First at Oxford, has retained a public-minded ethos, supporting charities in particular in the education sector, while deftly masterminding multi-million pound takeover deals.  However, recently at a conference  last  month, organised by Education Investor, at BIS, he let rip over one aspect of government policy which he says is gravely undermining UK  education exports- the  restrictions being placed on international students coming to the UK.  The message from speaker after speaker at this conference was that it was profoundly damaging to our image internationally and had already led to a drop in students particularly from India and Saudi. Word is out that it is difficult to get a visa, so many students are looking elsewhere. The London Met debacle has compounded the problem. As things stand most students are attracted to the States, and increasingly Canada, which is rapidly catching up with the UK. A UKTI representative at the conference said with breath-taking insouciance that his experience was that the UK education brand was alive and kicking and the Visa issue would not have any lasting effect. Nobody agreed.  Mr Lazarus who was speaking at the conference said that no Cabinet Minister agreed with Theresa Mays stand and even she had doubts but was intent on sticking to a manifesto commitment to reduce net migration. Speakers were incredibly frustrated about the damage being done to UK plc  Theresa May has squeezed migrant workers and students—the very people who are most likely to boost Britain’s economy, as well as the most likely to leave soon. Having committed themselves to a reduction in net migration—immigration minus emigration—to below 100,000 a year by 2015-the government is in a bind, with little or no room for manoeuvre in restricting EU immigration and asylum seekers the government is targeting students. The number of study visas handed out has plunged by 21% in a year. The government has made it harder to move from study to work, which in turn will deter foreign students from applying.  So in short International education, one of the country’s most important export industries and an area where Britain should have a huge competitive advantage, is being starved. The Government says that that  in fact the numbers of students from China is actually increasing. There has also been a  26% increase in students from Hong Kong and a 10% increase in students from Singapore. But what about India and the Middle East? There is a disjunction between what Vice Chancellors and those organisations that represent Higher Education Institutions are telling us and what Ministers are claiming.

Some business-minded Conservative MPs have begun to complain that the country’s immigration strategy is undermining its growth strategy. The Economist recently ran headlines such as  ‘Britain’s Barmiest Policy’ and ‘Young Gifted and Foreign-Bugger orf’ It opined ‘As emerging countries grow, the enthusiasm of young, talented foreigners to get an education in a British university or to sell their wares to Britain’s relatively prosperous consumers is likely to diminish. For now, though, the country’s global popularity gives it a huge advantage, which the government is squandering. The world is a competitive place. Britain is trying to run with its shoelaces tied together.’  This policy is against the UKs interests and has limited support in the Cabinet. Given that the government is seeking export led growth it looks like a policy that has to change. But it looked like it had to change a year ago, and its still firmly in place. Once we lose these students and they find alternative places to study it will be very hard to retrieve the situation. The student grapevine will see to that.

The BIS Select Committee sensibly recommends that for domestic policy purposes, overseas students should be recorded under a separate classification and not be counted against the overall limit on net migration. That would provide a sensible route out of this crisis.




Useful guide for students to help choose the right qualifications for post 16 options


What you decide to study post-16 can have a major impact on what you can study at degree level. Whether or not you have an idea of the subject you want to study at university, having the right information now will give you more options when the time comes to make your mind up.  The Russell Group of Universities, with the help of the Institute of Career Guidance, has published a guide that  aims to help students make an informed decision when choosing their course for post-16 education.  The Group believes that it will be of use to parents and advisors too. This is an important document. It would surely help to have a similar one for pupils aged 13 and their parents and advisors as the wrong choice at that  crucial age can massively influence a child’s future options post 16 too and indeed whether they can apply for university courses.  It is the case that many pupils, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, are limited in their choices of HE courses because they have not taken appropriate GCSEs or vocational equivalents, often because they have had poor advice in school  or indeed no advice. One question put by the Guide is – Know what you want to study? – Check out the entry requirements  If you have a university course which you are keen on, have you checked  the relevant university website or UCAS course search to find out whether  this course requires certain subjects at advanced level? Pretty obvious, of course, but some pupils don’t even do this.  The preamble to the Guide says ‘ Getting your post-16 subject choices right is an important first step towards university but it won’t guarantee you a place on your chosen degree course. Entry to Russell Group universities, in particular, can be highly competitive and academic background, while vitally important, is only one of several things universities will take into account when they consider your application. They will also want to select students who are clearly well-motivated and passionate about their subject. In some cases, they may even ask you to gain some work experience in a relevant field. ‘

 Informed Choices; A Russell Group guide to making decisions about  post-16 education 2011




Independents, unsurprisingly, dominate


Professor Les Ebdon, despite the objections of many Tory MPs, looks likely to be the new head of OFFA. Tories believe that he will push universities too hard to admit under qualified state school pupils or, to put it another way, indulge in social engineering. Ebdon believes that we should deal with the world as it is, not as we would like it to be, shorthand for- the disadvantaged get poor qualifications so universities should reduce entry qualifications  for them  and instead spot their potential.  Not a good idea runs the counter argument , spotting potential is not easy   and in any case we have to compete with the best in the world, so dumbing down probably  isn’t such  a good idea .  Better to raise the quality of pupils coming out of state schools, even if this takes time. Rob Wilson MP , giving his views representing  the Fair Access to University Group, says that  intervention to improve standards at the pre-university secondary school stage is the best way to improve fairness, recognise talent and ensure that students, regardless of background, are able to access top institutions. It seems likely that OFFA will now find itself under political attack.

43 % of graduates from Ebdon’s  own university (Bedfordshire) have no job six months after graduating, so indications are that he has no  access to a silver bullet  to improve social mobility  or to ease  access to good jobs (or any job ,come to think of it!).     And doubtless more pressure will now be put on Oxbridge to admit more pupils from state schools and to invest more in their already substantial outreach programmes. On top of which they will need to offer remedial programmes for undergraduates in the first year to get them  up to the standard required to cope with  their courses(  and, in the process ,increase the costs of their courses, so reducing the number of places available-how much sense does that make?).

So, which schools generally have the best record in getting pupils into Oxbridge? Here is the top ten based on the latest available figures:

North London Collegiate School                       (40) (42%)

St Paul’s Girls’ School                                       (40) (42%)

Westminster School                                         (50) (39%)

Magdalen College School                                 (25) (32%)

Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls              (30) (29%)

The Stephen Perse Foundation                        (20) (29%)

St Paul’s School                                             (45) (27%)

Guildford High School                                     (25) (26%

City of London School for Girls                       (20) (26%)

Wycombe Abbey School                                  (20) (25%)

There isn’t a single non-selective state school in the top hundred .42% of the end of KS4 pupils in both North London Collegiate and St Pauls Girls gained entry to Oxbridge, which is extraordinary. Eton, for the record, sent 60 boys to Oxbridge representing 22% of their cohort. Interestingly, though, increasing numbers of pupils from the top independents are choosing Ivy League Universities ahead of Oxbridge.  So, will Oxbridge be in a position to compete at all with the Ivy League in the future, given the access  agenda?   A question that Ebdon   may need to answer when he takes up his new job.

(Source Deposited Papers-Parliament 2012)- 2006 GCSE cohort progressing to Oxbridge 2010 


David Blackie, of the Language Business,  tells us that today, and for the next three days, the Australian International Education Conference takes place in Adelaide. At this event two of the British Council’s “Education Intelligence” section will be presenting their “Students in Motion” report series.

“They’ll look specifically at the forecasting of Chinese and Malaysian student mobility to Australia and will examine the factors which influence this student flow.” Riveting stuff, no doubt… but arent we competing with Australasian HE Institutions  in the global student  market.. and  does this constitute best   use of taxpayers money in straitened times? I think we should be told.