The scramble for university places to avoid high fees – Do the figures add up?

It is that time of the year when newspapers and TV stations carry pictures of teenagers celebrating after the summer examination results have been released. With a record number of young people achieving the top grades of A and A* at the both GCSE and A level, it would be wrong to think that this is the full picture. Figures show that a record 200,000 candidates have missed out on a place at university, having failed to achieve the grade required in order to gain admission to study the course they desire at a university of their choosing. Young people who have missed out are understandably disappointed. However, it must be remembered that universities are elite institutions and so they should be; as long as the selection process and entry criteria are fair and transparent. A university degree will be meaningless if everyone who wants to go to university is able to do so, irrespective of ability and commitment.
There are more students who are eager to gain admission this year so as to avoid the increase in tuition fees, which takes effect from the next academic year. More than usual, this has increased competition and less people want to take a gap year. It has meant that many young people have accepted a place at a university of their second or third choice or secured a place through clearing. Many are going to study a course that they did not really want to study in the first place and which may not lead to the sort of employment they would have liked. It is assumed that the difference in cost between starting university this year and waiting for the next academic year for many students could be as much as £18,000. This is calculated by multiplying by three, a figure of £6000, which is the difference between the current fees of £3,000 and the new upper limit of £9000 per annum. What young people should take into account is that not everyone will have to pay the full £9000 as there are measures in place to help people who can least afford to pay the top rate. Moreover, the threshold of earning at which graduates start to pay back their loans has been increased. These factors mean the savings made by starting university this year as opposed to next year not that big.
Even if a student has already accepted a place at a university, in many cases, it is not too late to turn it down and find a way to improve on those grades so that they can apply again the following year to study a course which is more highly valued and at a reputable university. This will increase the chances of getting a job that the student desires in the future. Another point that is worth mentioning is that a university degree is not everything. There are people who have not been to a university, but instead learn a trade or train to do jobs such as plumbing, electrical technicians and so on, and who are well qualified and earn a good living from the skills they have mastered and are financially better off than many graduates. Many accountancy firms are also happy to take on people with A-Level qualifications and put them on some sort of training programmes which can lead to a decent career in the future.
There can be a significant difference in life-time earning between those who study certain courses such as medicine, engineering, laws and some other professional courses and those who study less recognised degree courses.
The most important issue in this is the end product. By this I mean the standard achieved at the end of a degree course and how the young graduate is rated by employers. One only needs to look at what has been reported in the media during and after the recent riots to see that there are too many young people with degrees that are considered to be of too little value by most employers.
My next blog will look at the recent rioting / vandalism and explore possible links between the qualifications young people obtain and disillusionment with institutions.

You may find the links below useful on issues relating to examination results and exam league tables