Tag Archives: Ucas

City firms not finding what they need in independent school students.

Earlier this week, Mary Curnock Cook, head of Ucas, spoke at the HMC annual conference in St Andrews and suggested that independent schools are preparing students with narrow, almost identical outlooks on life. The necessary conclusion of this being that the life experience of such students does not provide the diversity that successful organisations need in the 21st Century.

Quoted in The Daily Telegraph she said, “It seems to me that not only are (independent school) students going to the same universities that their parents went to, but they are also studying the same subjects that their parents did.

“So I worry about a little sub-section of society which is sleepwalking though an identikit education experience into an off-the-peg life which mirrors what generations of the affluent classes have aspired to.

“The future is not what is used to be – the new sciences, digital economy, digital and creative industries have changed the shape of employment.

“Maybe just maybe some of them should give serious thought to choosing to study something different, somewhere else.”

Where that somewhere else might be is left unstated. I doubt there is much of a case to be made for encouraging able British students, and their aspirational parents,  to go to “lesser” universities in the United Kingdom although it certainly would not harm them to look at a wider range of courses.  The identikit education experience to which she refers can probably be better avoided at universities abroad.

There is plentiful evidence that studying abroad can shape the outlook of any young person and almost always for the better. However, even if independent schools, parents and students are looking for a narrow, evidence-based rationale for choosing a university abroad the recent Times Higher Education World University Rankings can provide this. Although these rankings are largely inappropriate when assessing the quality of these universities’ undergraduate teaching and student support, undeniably they give an indication of overall quality and reputation.

Below we present a snapshot of those universities in the Top 50 in non-English speaking Europe that offer Bachelors degrees in English. Over the last two years, all but two of these universities have seen their overall ranking improve. Perhaps it isn’t all that surprising that more British students are going to study abroad particularly in the Netherlands.  It would seem that City firms might be able find the talent they need in the near future but they will also have to cast their net a little wider when looking for the best talent.

Rank University Country Global Rank Bachelors in English
2 Karolinska Institute Sweden 28 1
5 KU Leuven Belgium 35 4
11 University of Amsterdam Netherlands 58 5
12 University of Utrecht Netherlands 62 3
13 Delft University of Technology Netherlands 65 2
14 Leiden University Netherlands 67 6
15 Erasmus University Netherlands 71 10
17 University of Groningen Netherlands 74 25
22 University of Freiberg Germany 84 1
23 Maastricht University Netherlands 88 10
24 Lund University Sweden 90 5
26 Georg August Universitaet Goettingen Germany 99 1
38 Radboud University Nijmegen Netherlands 130 6
41 Stockholm University Sweden 136 2
46 Aarhus University Denmark 149 4
47 University of Twente Netherlands 149 12
48 VU University Amsterdam Netherlands 154 3

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Ucas data harvesting – Not such a wise investment

In our last post we addressed several of the issues arising from Ucas’s expansion into international university admissions. We only briefly mentioned one of the more longstanding gripes we have with the way Ucas uses applicants’ data. The UK Information Commissioner has now ruled that Ucas broke electronic marketing rules when it passed details on up to 700,000 students to its commercial arm, Ucas Media.

According to The Guardian, the ICO ruled on Wednesday (8th April 2015) that the approach meant applicants “felt obliged to let Ucas use their information for commercial purposes, otherwise they’d potentially miss out on important information about their career or education”.

The tactic breached both the Data Protection Act, which requires personal information to be processed fairly, and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations, which govern electronic marketing and require consent to be given freely and for a specific purpose, the ICO said.

Ucas Media has agreed to change the sign-up on its site by 30th June 2015 that may have scared students into believing they would have missed out on information directly relating to their education choices if they hadn’t given permission to be marketed to. However, it is unlikely that all of the students currently in the system will go back to amend their settings. For international universities who are thinking about using Ucas Media to promote their offerings, they might find themselves in breach of data protection regulations in their own countries were they to do so. This could have repercussions within the European Union at the very least and it would perhaps be advisable to wait until the next applicant cycle before even considering using Ucas data for marketing purposes.

Ucas is in a highly privileged position given its central role in university applications in the United Kingdom. Misleading applicants about the uses to which their data might be put hardly tallies with their claim to have a unique insight into the desires of British students. It is good that this abuse of student data will now end.

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The pros and cons of applying to international universities through Ucas.

Firstly, I have to say that any step to make international higher education as normal and as accessible as British university options is to be applauded. Since founding A Star Future in 2006 this has been my one overriding ambition so I will take help in achieving this goal wherever I can get it.

Having said that, the idea of applying to international universities through Ucas has been around for a few years now, predating even the increase in UK tuition fees. Many of the advantages and disadvantages of facilitating applications through Ucas are well-rehearsed hypotheses; it now seems that we might get the chance to find out for real how it will work.

It is difficult to know at this stage exactly what will be a pro and a con so I have listed all of the considerations I can think of and will leave you to draw your own conclusions.

  1. Ucas reserves the right to choose which universities are the right quality. Does it have this power in the UK? While there are good reasons for assessing financial stability of Higher Education Institutions as well as credential recognition, is it really Ucas’s place to pass judgement on this? This will naturally have a limiting effect on the range of universities abroad that might be willing to submit themselves to this vetting. At this moment in time there are possibly only two public universities in Europe (except Ireland) that could sensibly be considered candidates and one of these, Maastricht University, has already ruled itself out for now. We recently published a report on the Top 50 European Universities and the opportunities that actually exist in English at Bachelor’s level. There are roughly 100 suitable degrees and almost one quarter of these are found at University of Groningen, perhaps the only likely international addition to Ucas at this time. You can download a copy of the report from the advisors area of the A Star Future website.
  2. By allowing admissions via the Ucas process international universities will dramatically increase the visibility of their Bachelor’s degrees in the UK. We try our best to make British students aware of international opportunities but our reach is somewhat limited in comparison with that of Ucas. The publicity benefits alone might make it worthwhile for international universities to include themselves. It is worth noting that Maastricht University plans to make use of Ucas’s marketing services rather than application services, utilising data harvested from UK university applicants to promote international higher education. This is nothing new, however.
  3. While presenting international opportunities alongside British ones might give applicants a better overview of the options in other countries in their subjects, it will be extremely difficult to provide meaningful comparative data about them. Key Information Sets are not a standardised component of the data international universities provide to applicants. Where they do exist, such as in the Netherlands, they cannot really provide direct comparisons with UK data particularly in areas such as graduate employability rates and student satisfaction. This is easier in the case of measures such as staff/student ratios, contact hours etc. and might be quite illuminating for British students.
  4. Applying through Ucas will make it easier for British students apply to international universities although it remains to be seen whether other country-specific application requirements would remain in place. Using Ucas might give students an overly simplified impression of the ease of studying abroad. We regularly deal with students encountering difficulties with international admission systems. While this can be frustrating and some systems appear counter-intuitive for British applicants and their advisors, it does serve as a useful introduction to the fact that things are different in other countries. If you can’t cope with the vagaries of a university’s entry processes is it really a good idea to commit to studying there for at least three years?
  5. When applying to a British university it is ordinarily essential to do so via Ucas. In other countries it will be very difficult to shut down direct applications so students could theoretically be rejected through Ucas and still have the chance to apply again for the same course at the same university. Given that many courses at universities abroad have relatively low A’ level entry requirements (even the very best universities can occasionally make offers to students students with EEE and in many countries unconditional offers are the norm) will anyone who applies through Ucas automatically be given an unconditional offer? If this becomes widespread it could have a distorting effect on UK students’ application strategies. This is becoming less of an issue as more English-taught courses employ some kind of additional selection criteria but this is not true for all courses in Europe at this time.
  6. Students are already notorious for not researching their fifth choice in Ucas. Some might be tempted to include an international choice without properly investigating the implications. We already have examples every year of students who only realise that Student Finance England support is not available to them after they have enrolled at university abroad and this is in spite of the fact that both our websites explicitly state this. Will Ucas be able to give students an accurate picture of the financial reality in a way that British students will actually take notice of? In some cases it wouldn’t surprise me if students select a course abroad without realising this is what they have done simply because they will be attracted by the headline tuition fees.
  7. Currently it is possible for students to accept offers from two universities in the UK (firm and insurance choice) and as many as they like from universities in other countries. This won’t change if students apply directly to international universities. However, if they apply through Ucas will accepting an international offer take up one of their two choices? If so, they might wish not to apply through Ucas in order to take maximum advantage of the additional choice international universities can offer.
  8. If students do use international universities primarily as an insurance offer because of the likelihood of receiving a lower offer this could generate a huge amount of acceptances but a much worse conversion rate than British universities would expect. There are further complications involved with students treating universities abroad as an insurance choice. Studies at many European universities can start as early as the first week of September leaving only two weeks between results day and the start of life abroad. If you are looking at a popular student city, this lack of preparation is likely to have serious consequences in terms of finding accommodation and settling in. We would strongly discourage speculative applications to international universities based on superficially attractive considerations such as lower tuition fees and easier entrance requirements. Making it easier for British students to apply to international universities might give those universities cause to be careful what they wish for.

At present it seems the only international higher education institution that has actually been granted permission to list its Bachelor’s degrees in Ucas is a private fashion school in Amsterdam offering a degree accredited by Bucks New University at a first year tuition fee of €15,600. While I am not in a position to judge this institution in any way, it does rather contradict the arguments laid out in most news articles that have been published recently about this development.

It is obviously necessary to reserve judgement on the success or otherwise of this development. By allowing international universities into Ucas it may be that the greater long term impact is on students from outside the UK being able to apply to British and other universities at the same time. I could certainly envisage a scenario where international universities are attracted to Ucas because it might bring them international students who were previously only considering UK destinations. British universities might not be delighted by such a development.

A final concluding thought: If Ucas is looking at ways of expanding internationally might it not be best off employing its undoubted expertise to improve other admissions systems in other countries? Studielink in the Netherlands, for one, could perhaps learn a thing or two.

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