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Universities should give applicants better information

It is in universities’ interests to recruit students who are best able to benefit from the programmes that they offer. This is not just a matter of setting the right academic criteria. Potential applicants need to feel confident that they have a good idea of what they will face at university, if they are to embark upon a programme that will require a large investment of time, effort and money.

I think that universities should provide more detailed information both on course delivery (e.g, the size and frequency of tutorial classes in Year 1) and outcomes (graduate destinations).

Course delivery is not just an issue of contact time. The crucial area where more information is needed is the class/tutorial/seminar in Year 1: the group in which students may speak with an academic member of staff about subject content. The evidence from our former students currently at university is that, anywhere outside Oxbridge, the size and frequency of these groups can vary hugely from one department to another even in the same university.

At one big brand-name uni., Biology students may be seen weekly per module in a group of 6, whereas Music students may be seen less frequently in a group of at least 30.

Similarly, potential applicants want to know where their investment is likely to lead, in terms of employment. The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) requires universities to submit data on what graduates are doing approximately six months after they have completed their course. One UK university, Surrey, has given detailed information for every subject cohort for many years: its inclusion of the number “unknown” or “unemployed” adds credibility to its First Destinations survey. It is no coincidence that Surrey has a high proportion of vocationally related courses from which graduates go straight into employment or further study. A survey of destinations 5 years after graduation would be more useful to potential applicants, but more difficult for universities to achieve.

Most universities will only offer this information if they are required to do so. At the moment it is usually left to the most persistent applicants to try to extract information on tutorial size and frequency. As for destinations 5 years beyond graduation, universities show star alumni, make general statements based on limited knowledge or shrug shoulders. They should not be surprised (as many were in 2012), if there is a shortfall in students taking up undergraduate places.

Posted by Philip Rogerson on Thu, 2 Feb 2017

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Philip Rogerson read Classics at Oxford. He has taught in a wide range of institutions: from UN (refugee camps in Jordan) to university (Oxford). Philip has been an HMC/ISI inspector of schools and has was Director of Higher Education and Careers at Sherborne School from 1997 to 2017.

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