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Which? report and value at universities

The publication this week of a report by consumer organisation Which? into perceived value at universities has provoked much debate.

The BBC focused on the assertion that universities should be punished for failing their students. This is timely, given the example of Plymouth University this summer, where boardroom strife even raised fears of bringing the whole city into disrepute.

In August, the Higher Education Funding Council for England recommended a review of Governance at the university. But the controversy continues. This month, suspended vice chancellor Wendy Purcell returned to work despite a vote of no confidence passed by staff in October.

Many Plymouth university students were left wondering about their prospects as the strife continued.

At that time, a spokesperson for UCAS confirmed to UniBox that there is currently no system allowing school-leavers to switch to a different university choice if they are losing confidence in their chosen university to deliver what they expect.

He stressed that it is important not to make decisions based on hearsay or media reports. The first step should be to call the university to get more information and discuss any worries.

“Admissions offices are very well-informed and you should speak to the admissions office if you have any concerns,” he said.  A school-leaver with better-than-needed grades can use the Adjustment system to look for a more competitive course. Or they could ask the university to release them so they can use Clearing to find a place. Another option might be to withdraw from the process and apply again a year later.

The Which? report, though, raises the possibility of “improved consumer protection” for students.

Influential education blog WonkHE goes further, and says that “perhaps tactically, [the report] avoids the really radical stuff that would give students real power – like:

  • The right to switch provider after the first year
  • The right to appeal a result based on academic judgment
  • An independent complaints ombudsperson in every HEI
  • The right to proper funding of the independent advocacy function for students in every HEI (via the SU)”

WonkHE broadly welcomes the contribution by Which?, a “body that has historically focused on washing machines and kids’ car seats”, for having students’ interests at heart.

Read the full WonkHE post here.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph gives an important reminder that, whatever your university provides for you, you have a responsibility to put the time and effort in too.

Posted by Nicholas Manthorpe on Tue, 31 Jan 2017



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Nick was a reporter for the Eastern Daily Press and its sister weekly titles in Norfolk and Waveney, then served as Media Officer for North Norfolk District Council for 13 years. He now works as a writer and PR and media relations consultant. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, an associate member of the Chartered Management Institute and a member of East Anglian Writers.

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