Students and Universities - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents



Summary of views and comments posted on the e-consultation held by the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee during February-April 2009 in connection with its inquiry into Students and Universities

STUDENTS AND UNIVERSITIES E-FORUM

  The Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee set up a web forum to find out what students at universities in England thought about the university admissions process and whether courses, teaching and university life had lived up to expectations. The web forum ran for six weeks from 23 February and closed on 7 April 2009. The forum asked for views on six topics.


Topic
Posts

Why did you decide to apply to university?
29
Do you think that the admissions process for universities is fair?
34
What factors influenced your choice of university and course?
31
Has university lived up to your expectations?
32
What do you think of the quality of teaching at university?
41
Are all degrees the same?
29


1.  The first question asked respondents why they decided to apply to university.

  Respondents identified three factors influencing their decision to go to university: family expectation; school; and the prospects of a better career.

  One post summarised the confluence of these factors: "I had known from an early age that I would likely end up at university, and through encouragement from parents and teachers, it seemed a natural progression after A Levels. It was very much the 'norm' and expected of fairly intelligent people like myself to go onto university.

    "I also knew that the job prospects and salaries were much higher with a degree level qualification. This and an enthusiasm for learning about two subjects in particular at A Level made me keen to want to further my study".

  Some respondents made the point that entry into certain careers such as engineering, town planning, nutrition and dietetics required a degree or completion of a course provided at university. Some also choose university because of a passion for a subject that they wanted to pursue.

  Several respondents commented on the lack of information about the alternatives to university. One said that alternatives to university were actively discouraged: when he considered a gap year his parents discouraged it as they had seen many of their friends' children not go to university after doing a gap year because "earning money was too appealing". This respondent added that the alternatives to university were not pressed at either at his school or college and pointed out that options such as the army were characterised as the "thick" option. Others echoed these points. One person who did a year at university said: "I went to university because no one could come up with a better idea for me. I didn't really know what I wanted to do so I understand that this may well have been the best option for me and I certainly got some things out of that year but I don't feel sufficient information is available about the alternatives. University is not the right place for everyone, academic-minded or otherwise. Apprenticeships and the like have a lot to offer."

  Those who referred to the Government's target of 50% admission to university for school leavers were nearly all critical and the main concern was that the policy was propelling too many to university. One respondent pointed out that the policy would lead to graduates being unable to find suitable jobs. The respondent said that this was already a problem for those with degrees that were not job specific such as Business Studies and that the policy left a large gap in professions such as plumbers while characterising those who had no desire to gain further education as worthless for not going to university with no motivation to gain a "trade" qualification.

  One post criticised the effects of the 50% university admissions target: "The Government's 50% target for University education is absolutely ridiculous, if 50% of jobs required a degree then this would make perfect sense. However the vast majority of jobs require no further study beyond GCSE let alone A-Level or a Degree, all the government is doing with this target is to devalue a Degree, saddle a large number of the populace with more debt than they can ever pay back, force universities to run "dud" courses which realistically could be better served as Apprenticeships or not at all, and force Universities to "dumb-down" harder degrees to allow more people to succeed."

  The other strand of criticism running through the posts was the level of debt that students had to incur. One respondent pointed out that the amount of debt involved "is very hard for an 18 year old to even imagine" and suggested that it was likely such a large figure meant little to this age group until they started to earn a salary. This view was not, however universal. One student said that he was fully aware of the financial implications, as tuition fees had just been launched when he was searching and applying to universities. He said that he knew that he would have to establish what his maintenance loan would be and whether he could accommodate the loan in the short term. He added that long term financial planning was not a problem as UCAS, the Sixth Form and the Student Loans Company all produced financial FAQ's "very well indeed". But he added that bursaries were something he was less clear on and "I was somewhat bemused that students' in certain faculties get bursaries at my university whilst others do not". Others endorsed this concern about the lack of information on finance and also on costs: "the possible sources of Grants and Bursaries were never made clear with the exception of from the Armed Forces, whose bursaries are well publicised. Also, Universities don't necessarily make "all" of the costs of a degree known, Books and Field Trips for example are both not mentioned and changeable. this does not bode well for student finances."

  Students who came from middle-income families considered that the level of support they could obtain was inadequate. One student commented: "I was aware of the huge debt I would be left with when I came to university, however I was unaware of how draining the daily grind of poverty would be. For middle class students like me, whose parents are deemed by the government to be capable of contributing to their children's education but in fact have very little spare cash, there is a big gap between the amount I can scratch together to live on (including work, about 4K) and the amount the students from poor backgrounds get (upwards of 5K). If you consider that if I was working on minimum wage I would have 9K to live on, the figures really do get depressing."

2.  The second question asked whether the admissions process for universities was fair.

  There was no consensus in the views posted. A few considered the system fair, a larger group considered it fair but with reservations and a significant number considered it unfair.

  View of respondent who considered the admission process fair: "My experience of the admissions process was fantastic, I got offers from all the universities to which I applied, whilst still coming from a lower middle class background and going to a relatively average state school. When I went to interview at the two universities that required me to have one, my grades were never on the agenda even though they were not all A's, it was always "have you got any questions for us? 'I see from your personal statement that….' and 'why do you want to come to this university?' The interviewers wanted to know about me, not my grades."

  The concerns of those who considered the process fair without reservations and unfair coalesced around the same issues: A-levels and interviews. Much of the debate focussed on whether too much emphasis was placed on A-level results and how to differentiate those who obtained three As at A-level. Some considered that A-levels should be supplemented or replaced with interviews as they reflected only a small part of an applicant's intelligence and aptitude. One respondent considered that A-Levels did not distinguish candidates and that "references are always glowing and candidates regularly make up activities on their UCAS personal statements (based on what I saw at my school)". In this respondent's view two 30 minute interviews—one technical and one general—could "easily work out who can think on their feet and who is telling the truth". The respondent added that the use of interviews made the "overall system fairer; better teaching at a good school easily affects your grades after 7 years, but school preparation for an interview is much harder and makes it a more level playing field." The view was also expressed in posts that the focus on A-level results excluded adequate consideration of vocational training and other non-academic achievements.

  A mature student studying pharmacy posted the following: "The admissions process was not that fair. Several institutions placed far too much emphasis on taking A-levels (or having recently taken them) and appeared unwilling to consider candidates with more complex circumstances, such as other qualifications, professional experience and time away from study (which seems a bit of an oversight for professional-leaning degrees!). It is also baffling that the percentage of students who achieve top grades at A-level has been allowed to increase year-on-year, instead of representing a relatively constant range of top performers over the years. This makes it harder for institutions to distinguish between candidates of differing abilities and creates a need for entrance tests (which could have been avoided through corrective action against such A-level grade "drift"). It also renders direct comparisons between results several years apart fairly meaningless, for example the number of top grades awarded has more than doubled since I sat my A-levels 20 years ago, which suggests (statistically) that had I sat my exams in 2008, I would have got a grade A instead of a grade B. This would not usually pose much of a problem after completing a degree, but it may have been an issue in my case when applying for places on competitive university courses."

  The counter view was that interviews made the process too subjective. Some considered that universities should not base their choice of students on their backgrounds but the grades they have worked hard to achieve at A-level. One respondent also made the point that asking academic staff at all institutions to interview every candidate would have a significant impact on the time and resources available for research and teaching.

  Opinions on entrance examinations were similarly divided. One student considered that introducing entrance examinations was a step too far for students and pointed out that applicants work" really hard for two years and then universities expect us to do more exams". Another pointed out that the A-level system was the "standardised university entrance exam" and pointed out that the "reason why top universities, such as Oxbridge, have introduced their own entrance exams […] is that A-levels do not distinguish sufficiently between very good pupils and excellent ones; this is shown by the high number of pupils that gain A grades. […] That pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds do not go onto achieve the highest A-level grades is a failing of our school system, not the fault of the universities". The respondent suggested that the Government needed to "improve the teaching in all state schools to ensure that all pupils are given an equal chance of academic success. This can only be done be raising the quality of teaching, by ensuring bad teachers are removed from schools, bright graduates are not put off by the conditions in schools and protecting bright, hardworking pupils from being affected by those who are badly behaved."

  One respondent commented on the increase in the top grades at A-level: "The problem here is the number of people achieving high grades but rather the standard of the exams themselves; perhaps the curriculum should be blamed. On the other hand, it should not come as a surprise that pupils become increasingly better, year on year, at doing well in a particular type of exam—teachers learn how to train pupils to please examiners as they gain (collectively) experience and become more familiar with the layout of papers. The formula for doing well at A-level is pretty much 'cracked'."

  There was also debate on whether the name of the applicant's school should be removed from the application form. This sat with a theme running through the posts that there should be neither negative discrimination nor positive discrimination in the process. As one post put it "I think [the admissions process] should be based on academic ability not your social status or background and the statements need to be anonymous. All they need are your grades, details and statement. The institution you studied should be blotted out until they have made their decision, in which case they can seek out references if needed". Another post took a different view: "I think universities do a good job in attempting to balance academic achievement, academic potential and commitment to learning. I do not think that the universities should be banned from seeing the name of a person's school unless interviewing/entrance exams become a lot more common than they currently are. A-levels test what you have been taught, not how you think, or your capacity to learn in the future, and so the quality of teaching has at least as much effect on the outcome as the ability of the student. Universities have to have some way of determining the quality of teaching a person has had, and knowing the school they have been to is one (admittedly imperfect) way of doing that."

  Some respondents noted the small number of students from certain ethnic minorities at leading universities and asked whether this cast suspicions on the fairness of the process.

3.  The third question asked what factors influenced students' choice of university and course.

  The responses divided into those who did wide-ranging research and those who did not—usually because they knew where and what they wanted to study and so did not need to.

  Several of those falling in the first category wished to continue studying subjects they were taking at A-level—or in some cases pursue a career built on those subjects—and then looked at a university that would provide the best course. Typically these next steps included:

    — consulting a guide such as the Times Good University Guide, in particular the ratings for research, pass rates, student satisfaction and figures about graduate employment; One student said that he had also consulted an unofficial student forum which had influenced his eventual decision.

    — for the preferred universities, examination of the entrance criteria, course content, how the course would be taught, contact time and access to tutors and the facilities available; and

    — contact with the selected universities either through open days or at interview. When visiting a university one respondent commented that he or she made "sure I spoke to graduates, teachers, lecturers, current students and people in the world of politics of which I intend to focus my future career in. I found their opinions very helpful and much more accurate than my peers [which] played on popular beliefs [and] were easily unfounded."

  Post from a student who was clear about the course: "For me the most important thing about the course that I picked was that it was something that I would enjoy. My A-levels at school were Physics, Maths and Geography and so I was looking at a career that was linked to these subjects. What made me decide on Engineering was a Headstart course that I attended with the Royal Academy of Engineering—this opened my eyes to an area that I had given some consideration to, but didn't really know that much about.

    "Once I had decided on Engineering […] I looked at the Universities that offered this course. There are a limited number of Universities that offer a course […], therefore the Universities that I applied to was partly predetermined by this. Of the Universities that offered the course I wanted to do I then selected the ones that made offers that matched my predicted A-level grades and that had a good reputation.

    "My knowledge about quality of teaching and research at the Universities was mainly picked up when I attended interviews—I did not really take too much account of what the Universities were saying about this, as they all had achieved similar standards and they were only ever going to tell prospective students the really positive things. The thing that influenced me most on interview days was looking around the facilities, accommodation and locality—I was looking at the places I had applied to see if I could imagine myself living and studying there."

  For those who did not conduct wide-ranging research the location of the university often determined their choice. Several mature students with family and other commitments made the point that the nearest universities were the only choice open to them. One post falling into this category said: "The main factor which influenced my choice was the locality of the university. Having a wife and children meant that I could not stay away and had to accept a place which was easy for me to commute. While this was the case I have to say that the university and the course have met my needs sufficiently."

  Cost was mentioned by a few respondents. One pointed out that it was cheaper to live at home with his parents. Another said that although she had received an offer from Cambridge, she ended up selecting Lancaster as it offered her a scholarship. She commented: "university was meant to be made more accessible financially to students. However, by raising the tuition fees the year before I started, my parents and I had no chance to save anywhere near enough money to pay for university. I will graduate with £19,000 worth of debt and that, I feel, is the best I could have hoped for. I have had to work while at university and over the summer which has massively affected my work at university. I would recommend anyone thinking of attending university to consider institutions which are not necessarily at the top of the ratings guide and look at institutions which offer scholarships or other forms of financial support".

  A member of the Youth Parliament posted the following: "We asked over 1000 young people this question in March 2009. 1 in 3 young people said that the recession will affect their choice of university and/or course, with many opting for cheaper courses or choosing a local university so they can live at home. We think it is essential that these voices of YOUNG PEOPLE are taken into account, and not just those who are already studying who graduated. Any decision made by Government will directly affect our generation and we believe we have a right to be consulted."

4.  The fourth question asked students whether university had lived up to their expectations.

  Posts varied widely. Those who commented favourably included the following factors:

    — university provided the opportunity to study an interesting subject to degree level;

    — access to the best minds in the field;

    — good relationships with tutors, who were accessible and helpful;

    — the opportunity to meet many new people with different viewpoints and backgrounds, and to improve social skills;

    — the opportunity to travel abroad to experience other cultures and challenge perceptions; and

    — university clubs and societies which allowed students to develop extra-curricula skills and to test and reform their beliefs and assumptions.

  A post from a respondent who considered university life had lived up to expectations: "A large part of why I have enjoyed university so much is because the opportunities I have had that I would not have had anywhere else. I have been president of a society, written for a newspaper and presented a radio show. These and other experiences have helped me become a rounded person. When combined with mostly fantastic teaching I am left in my final year feeling extremely satisfied."

  The posts are not a representative sample and the universities at which students are studying are not always ascertainable from the e-mail addresses used but it would appear that those attending universities in the Russell Group tended to report a positive, rather then negative, experience.

  Top of criticism was the quality of teaching and feedback on work (which is also covered at question 5). Critical comments on teaching ranged from "awful" to "hit-and-miss". Also mentioned was the cost of attending university and some queried whether they were obtaining value for money for their tuition fees. One said: "The fact I am paying the £3000+ fees doesn't really annoy as the payback system is quite good once graduates have received a job. Do I think it is value for money? No. I cannot find £3000 worth of value in my course, and I have not received that level of learning back". Other criticisms included:

    — poor administration by universities;

    — sub-standard sports facilities

    — a student culture too focussed on alcohol;

    — lack of transparency in the decisions taken by universities and student unions;

    — courses such as engineering becoming increasingly academic and theoretical; and

    — absence of opportunities to learn other skills such as ICT or languages.

  A student posted: "I started as a 'mature student' at the age of twenty one and even with a modest three years full time employment behind me before I started my programme, I have been routinely amazed at the lack of professionalism, confidentiality, communication skills and responsibility exhibited by many senior lecturers. Whilst lecturing academics are clearly expert in their fields, this DOES NOT make them competent teachers, managers or equip them well to deal with student-lecturer relations. From my experiences, academics easily become institutionalised and clearly need more or better training in many aspects of professional conduct and skills which in almost any other job would be an absolute prerequisite."

  Finally, a member of the Youth Parliament posted to say that they had consulted with students, parents and young people with aspirations to go to university to find out their expectations and hear their story regarding university accessibility. The post reported that they received "stories of disappointment, disillusionment and struggle as people from all ages and backgrounds battled against the barriers that are current in higher education." This was published at www.ukyouthparliament.org.uk.

5.  The fifth question asked what students thought of the quality of teaching at university.

  This question received the largest number of posts, which pointed to variable quality in teaching in universities. A typical critical post read: "university lecturers seriously need to take lessons from school teachers on how to teach. They are clever […] but they are not skilled at conveying the message. They talk to us like we are fellow professionals who understand everything […] they simply talk through slideshows, don't get us involved in the lecture, don't care if we miss some info, miss major parts out and say we should catch up ourselves."

  A post taking the contrary view: "I have to listen to many different kinds of lecturers from very different backgrounds but I find that the vast majority, while not formally trained to teach, are very good at communicating the relevant concepts. In my opinion this is simply because the better someone understands a topic, the more comprehensively and clearly they can explain it to others. […] To an extent, the perceived problem with university teaching […] can be attributed to the spoon-feeding style of teaching used in many sixth forms. Perhaps emphasis should be placed on preparing children for a more independent form of study with greater flexibility rather than criticising the teaching ability of competent and passionate (for their subject area and research) academics."

  Several respondents addressed the question whether university teachers should be required to have professional qualifications. One student said that, while the majority of lecturers were knowledgeable in their specific subject areas, their means of conveying this information to students often left "a lot to be desired". The student considered that "lecturers should have a professional teaching degree to be able to lecture at university." While several shared this view, others said it would be "better to be taught by someone who has worked in the field for years, is enthusiastic about it, and who may not necessarily have devoted time to getting a teaching qualification". Some were concerned that a requirement to obtain a professional qualification might deter first-rank researchers from becoming university teachers.

  One category of university teacher criticised were graduate students, though praise for the quality of graduate students was also given. One respondent said: "I'm a first year student and find myself becoming increasingly frustrated with the quality of teaching at my university. I have a decent chunk of contact time by most people's standards, but around half of it isn't worth going to. Most of the lecturers are reasonably good speakers—the worst offenders are the PhD students ("tutors") who are employed to run lab sessions (in which they refuse to help), mark coursework (which is always carried out suspiciously quickly and inconsistently) and give lacklustre tutorial sessions (these involve a couple of half-baked PowerPoint slides and quickly deteriorate into having a chat)."

  Some respondents made the point that there was no mechanism for dealing with poor teachers in universities, unlike schools and that, deans of faculties appeared unresponsive and were not accountable to students for inadequate teaching. As one respondent put it: "In a lot of lectures, the entire year group are made to feel like an inconvenience. Complaints go unheard, student reps seem to be ignored even when the same complaints arise, and the bog-standard answer to most requests for help seems to be 'You should know it already, so I won't tell you.' Yes, there are times when the asker should certainly be at a standard in year 3 where they shouldn't have to ask for help with year 1 or 2 principles, but if 10/20 students on a course of 80 (down from 130 in year 1) are all asking the same things, shouldn't this set off alarm bells as to why so many students are struggling? Apparently not. The same goes for when a third of a year group fail an exam first time around—surely this should be an indicator? Apparently not."

  Commenting on the relationship between teaching and research one student said: "[I]t is important that the people teaching are still engaged in research, so that they can keep students up to date with their topic. However, this should not be at the expense of the teaching itself. Some lecturers do seem to just be teaching so that they can get funding for their research and therefore don't enjoy the teaching aspect, resulting in uninteresting lectures. Also, classes were often cancelled when lecturers were off on research projects, sometimes without students being given much advance notice and with no work set to do whilst they were absent. There needs to be some sort of cover system at least but, where possible, the research should be done in non-contact time."

  Views on the quality of feedback also varied. One student said that feedback was "usually prompt and detailed, explaining the good and bad parts of your work and how it could be improved." This was not the majority view. Criticism ranged from one who said that feedback and consistency of marking were "awful" to another who said that the "feedback I have been given ranges from no comments to well done to 'don't use bullet points'". The respondent believed that this was "insufficient feedback to learn how to improve my work. Each lecturer should have to put one good point about the work that should be continued for future work, and one bad point that needs to be improved on. This way, students can learn what they are doing right and the improvements needed."

  On contact time, comments were more favourable than on feedback. There was some criticism that given the tuition fee contact time was inadequate. One student commented that the "contact time we have with staff is a problem. Lectures are often informative but there is no one-to-one time. Sometimes I feel like I'm in a sausage factory rather than surrounded by some of the foremost minds in my field. I appreciate that students get in the way of research but the whole point of university is for the lecturers to pass on their knowledge." But others—particularly it appears those studying science and possible students at Russell Group universities—considered contact time was satisfactory. One respondent said that "I have a decent chunk of contact time by most people's standards".

6.  The sixth question asked whether all degrees were the same.

  Comments posted in response to this question focussed on two issues: comparisons between subject and comparisons between universities. The consensus, though not universal view, was that the degree classification system cannot be perceived as equal either between universities or between subjects.

  On subjects, one respondent considered that it was the case that an upper second honours degree in two different subjects within the same university could be of different value. She pointed out that it was possible to have a very well respected department within a poorly performing university and that in media coverage of the league tables caveats were rarely added that certain departments were outstanding. A Cambridge student put a different view: "based on Cambridge, degrees classes was roughly equivalent within an institution. The range of marks varied between subjects, but the proportion of students getting a 2:i wasn't […] hugely different. Given that the entry criteria were also broadly similar for each course, the degrees are probably roughly equivalent in value".

  There was also an exchange of views on the relative difficulty of arts subjects in comparison to science subjects. One student did not consider that most arts degrees were as difficult as most science degrees. The respondent pointed out that in arts degrees the main form of assessment was essays, which students have weeks to work on, in contrast in those taking science degrees who were continually assessed and had "far more exams". Some respondents pointed out that arts and science degrees required contrasting skills: a science degree was "more about learning and understanding material delivered in lectures and practicals", whereas an arts degree was "more text based".

  One respondent considered that it was "wrong to assume that arts subjects are worth less, or are easier to do well in, than science degrees. My sister, a straight A student, passed her first year in medicine, to change to English because she wanted to think philosophically, and not just regurgitate medical knowledge. She is on for a first in English, but has a mixture of marks in her papers. Her clear ability, and her success in her medical degree did not necessitate success in English, and I don't think her workload has substantially changed, although she has greater flexibility now. In English, you have never finished reading."

  On the comparability of universities, several posts considered that the requirements to gain entry to a particular courses were instructive. One point pointed out that a degree in History at a "red brick" university might require three As at A-level, while universities "lower down the scale" would require "much less". While taking the view that this should not dictate the worth of a 2:1 degree, the respondent considered that, if the standard of students admitted were of "a higher calibre, this will then often affect the quality of debate in classes, tutorials and ultimately the standard of work produced".

Commenting on whether all degrees were the same one respondent said:

    "It is […] entirely depressing and de-motivating for students who go to the most rigorous universities to hear that they might as well have gone elsewhere. Is this really what we want to encourage? There are indeed students who gained near perfect A-level grades and worked hard at these universities that got 2:2s. If they had gone to a university with much lower entry requirements, and hence necessarily lower academically intense courses, it is highly probable that they would have gained a 2:1 or a 1st. It therefore seems entirely unfair that graduate schemes and jobs have blanket requirements for a 2:1 or above. The only standard tests in England are GCSEs and A-levels. Compare a student with AAAA at A-level and a 2:2 from, for example, Cambridge versus a student with EE at A-level and a 2:1 from another university. The only way of comparing these two individuals (academically at least) is to compare their A-levels that were of the same (or at least very similar) academic standard. […]

    The suggestion that all university degrees are, or even should be, the same is to fundamentally discourage variety, difference and achievement in our society. Why would we want to make all degrees the same? Why would want them all to be 'average'? We should celebrate those that attain brilliant degrees from top-class universities just as we do celebrate those that are talented footballers; amazing singers; etc. Students at our top universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge, are amongst the most brilliant in the world. It is of this England should be proud."

  There were several posts on the value of degrees in subjects such as social studies, media studies, football studies and surf sciences. Some took the view expressed by one post that it was "incomprehensible" that a media studies degree was comparable with the academic rigour involved in a subject such as medicine. Another wanted the system to "differentiate between the tougher courses and courses such as media studies. In rejoinder, a student of media studies said that he found the theories and concepts introduced in media studies just as challenging as those in politics in which he was taking a major.

  Several students said that standards varied between universities. One respondent pointed out that courses at different universities would never be the same unless they all taught the same syllabus. She said that in her subject different universities emphasised different things—some put more emphasis on language skills and some on linguistics or literature. Even where courses covered the same broad topics, there was no guarantee that the level expected is the same. The student said one of her friends, who was now supervising students at another Russell Group university, was told that the material he covered at the same stage in his degree was "too difficult" for the students there. The student said that, if the course material was substantially easier, then she did not know how it was possible to test whether or not students were at the same level. Another student considered that the problem was not the classification system as such, but the academic requirements. The student said that in his university, 70% was a first but that was extremely hard to obtain whereas the marking in other universities allowed students to obtain a first with a mark as high as 86% on the basis of a performance that "would not qualify even for a 2.1 in a top university". The student considered that standards had to be raised in these universities.

  One respondent who had studied experience of the University of Cambridge and the Open University commented: "although the academic approach is different, with Cambridge encouraging new ideas and an innovative style and the Open University preferring a more traditional hoop jumping exercise, the resulting grade 2:i and a merit, are about the same level, not the top first or distinction. We worked hard at Oxbridge, but we were privileged in studying in an atmosphere conducive to that. At the Open University students juggle full time work and study, and that reflects different skills."

  One respondent considered that degrees were worth less than in the past. Her father who had graduated in 1978 had been offered a PhD with a 2:ii, and getting a 1st then was much rarer. It saddened her that degrees had been devalued and she considered that a first should be a measure of exceptional academic achievement, not competent organisation.

  Some students drew attention to the external element in the assessment process to ensure consistent standards—both the use of external examiners and external accreditation by professional institutes to "help to even out the differences".

  Several posts commented on what employers were seeking from candidates for employment. One said that as employers mainly looked for a 2:i or above which many graduates had achieved, the only "thing that stands out is which university the student comes from. Some universities carry a brand name and broader status than others."

  A member of the Youth Parliament posted the following: "There is the fear that if universities are able to charge what they like, there will be a huge divide between affordable institutes and those that can get away with charging sky high fees. If we continue this way, there will be an unfair disadvantage and a growing divide between the Russell Groups and Polytechnics of this country. Again, young people between the ages of 11-18 need to be asked these questions as part of the upcoming review to relay their perceptions of higher education as they are the next generation of students."

April 2009






 
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