There were a whole raft of announcements and news stories about university applications last week - sadly they didn't get much air time as TV and radio stations remained firmly focused on the state of the Euro. Still, the BBC did publish a few stories which are worthy of further discussion.
The first one was entitled "University applications down 13% on last year". If I am honest, I expected a bigger drop than that, but it is hard to tell what the end figure will look like. I guess we won't know for sure until the actual deadline for applications submissions (January 15th) has passed.
There have been so many policy changes, so many conflicting stories, and so many rumours that I am not surprised that many school leavers are still pondering the benefits of university education against the debts they will be saddled with. A perfect example of how confused the whole picture seems to be, is the article called "University tuition fees: Last-minute changes approved”, also published on the BBC last week. It appears that as many as 25 institutions were allowed to do last minute changes to their fee packages to make use of new rules. According to Offa, fees have been reduced in 11 institutions, while fee-waivers or special discounts have risen by £37.4m. But bursaries and scholarships are down by £13.8m. I wonder how many of these changes are a direct result of the number of application submissions being down from last year.
The issue for school leavers is that the alternatives to university education are few and far between. The government is making some pretty encouraging news about apprenticeships, but the system seems rather complicated to me. Take a look at the official apprenticeship site. There are reams and reams of information, but when you get down to it, if you want to start the process of applying for an apprenticeship, you will find that it looks very much like a job search. I doubt that many school leavers will be ready for that sort of process. It all seems too detached for my liking – much of it is done online, which is great if you are confident and know exactly what you want, but I reckon most of the applicants will be looking for a lot more hand holding. It’s a big decision to make at such a young age.
The majority of our own students are university graduates – many of them will have tried to get jobs without much success – and though you would expect them to be more confident than school leavers, what we find is that they very much need direct feedback and engagement with us to help them make the right decision for them. Online information is great, but it is in no way enough, and ultimately, what they want to do is talk to us, see our studios and meet our tutors face to face – something that we do in our regular open days and in our One2One sessions. Now, don’t get me wrong, the reason why we can have such a personal approach to our admissions process is that we have relatively low numbers of applicants when compared to government schemes. I wonder how the apprenticeship scheme is going to cope, knowing what I know about the decision process that young people go through.
It will be interesting to see how these apprenticeships fair over the coming year and how the overall university applications will be affected.
If you have had experiences of applying for apprenticeships or university places, I would love to get your feedback.