Education Stimulation…

18 02 2009

The news today that more and more people are wanting to study at university given the current economic climate comes as no great surprise to me. After all, it was over ten years ago we were promised that half of all A Level students would be going to university. Given the huge downturn in the job market (something I myself am hugely frustrated by), it seems university is the only option for people with scant few other options. This is aided by the provision of loans to students with the proviso that they do not need paying back until the student is earning £15,000 pa. Indeed, it seems university is the only option for many.

The trouble is, there remains a cap on the numbers of students admitted to any one place. Hence why there are only so many places available on any given course. This cap is fine if the numbers of students applying to university remains roughly constant. However, with both the encouragement from the government and the current problems, this number hasn’t remained constant at all. It has risen by 8% for the next academic year. Thus, there is 8% more people competing for the same number of places. There is a presumption here that these candidates will be (generally) applying for the more mid-range universities, rather than the established elite universities. Therefore, the increased competition will be felt keenest at precisely the levels where the competition is already the greatest. A quick scan of UCAS’s website shows that generally, over the past five years, applications have increased, indeed, since 2003 they have increased by roughly 15%, and the number of applicants by 12%. Of the 534,495 applicants in 2007, 413,430 were accepted onto courses. In other words, roughly 23% of candidates were not successful with their applications. This figure is worse than it was in 2003, where it was roughly 21%.

If therefore we map such figures onto next year, we are told “The number of people wanting to study undergraduate courses at UK universities this autumn has risen by 8%. I take this to mean that there are 8% more applicants than last year. So, here’s the math: there is an average growth of 2.75% in applicants for the past five years [more if you ignore the anomalous year of 2006, I didn’t], meaning there would be 564,296 applicants for 2009 [549,194 in 2008]. Which means there would be roughly 432,476 successful applicants.

This is without the extra 8% of applications. Add this figure in and there would be 608,232 applicants. If we assume that the percentage unsuccessful remains the same, there would be 466,149 successful applications. That’s an extra 33,673 people who are rejected from university. Whilst therefore it is true that universities are accepting more people on their courses, the rate of increase is not enough to accomodate the extra 8%. Indeed 142,083 people will not get into university.

There are likely to be numerous reasons for this, but it is clear that the added competition will do nothing to help the situation. This problem, coupled with the inflexibility of the cap of the number of people, means that many will suffer. Those who are applying for the mid-range universities (a quick glance at 2007’s list of numbers applying for individual universities seems to confirm my view) will be the ones forced to suffer the most, as they will have to accept places at universities which may not have been their number one choice, or even number two. This means that they will be taking places at universities asking for lower grades. By definition, these universities are the ones which are not as good as the higher placed ones in league tables.The impact that this could have upon their future careers is hard to say, but it is clear there will be an impact (If, for example, you are an employer and have two candidates with the same degree, but one was from, for example, Kings College London, and the other was from Sandwell College, who would you pick?).

For those people aiming towards the bottom, it seems that they will be the ones to miss out entirely. They will be forced off the bottom rung of the ladder, and will have to seek work after their A Levels, something which is no easy task at the best of times, never mind in the middle of an economic crisis.

As I see it, the remedy to the problem is to relax the cap. This is not to say “remove it all together”, but allowing more people in would help out in the long run. However, this is too idealistic, many universities cannot cope with extra numbers of students, there is not the accomdation, or the teaching staff, or the space. It seems there is potentially a bigger problem emerging then. It also seems that the hope of putting half the student population through university has proven to be poorly thought out. A simple increase in the number of universities will do little to remedy a problem at the other end of the academic spectrum. Of course more students means a need for more accomodation, it’s inevitable. Universities can just about keep up if the increase in the numbers is slow but constant. When however, an extra 8% are dumped into the mix, someone, somewhere will lose out. And not just someone, some 33,673.




One response

9 08 2009
Discriminate This… « The Cowfield

[…] levels of education. Again, I have written about the growing pressures on the university system before. However, a short-term, blind-sighted view that Mandleson appears to be appropriating here seems so […]

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