Why Unlimited Recruitment of AAB+ Students May Be Damaging

Following the announcement of the Higher Education White Paper, I couldn’t make my mind up about the proposals. It didn’t get the scrutiny it deserved after the announcement as it was overshadowed by the news of the tuition fee rises. As such, it’s taken until now to really be able to see the effects of it and therefore make a judgement on the policy.

For those that don’t know, universities traditionally had strict quotas of UK/EU students it could take and there were fines for those that significantly overrecruited. Under the new system, students with AAB+ (or over 36 points in the IB) will be excluded from this quota. In theory then, universities could recruit as many of these students as it likes. This threshold is set to be lowered to ABB next year.

Now I’ve seen the policy in action, I can see nothing but negative consequences on a number of factors:

Potential “overrecruitment”

Although technically you can’t overrecruit AAB+ students in an official sense, the government policy now essentially encourages recruiting as many of these students as physically possible.

It makes sense from the outside, given that the expenses of the majority of courses (excluding many of the medicinal related ones) are sunk costs. In other words, once the initial investment has been made on, for example, library materials, teaching staff etc. adding one extra student to the cohort makes little difference financially. In most cases, it would be economically beneficial to accept their £9k payment and let them on board.

However, it would be a grave mistake to view this issue through a purely economic prism. If too much emphasis is put on the financial incentive, we will see a serious decline in quality of experience for these students.

I’m talking big class sizes (which I would argue are often too big already, as one class I had recently didn’t even have enough chairs and desks for all of us), and a squeeze on accommodation places.

I don’t know if universities are attempting to over recruit beyond capacity, but it does seem suspicious that the majority of courses from the mid-tier Russell Groups (York, Bristol, Sheffield etc.) are in clearing, when usually only a handful of courses are available.

Lowering Entry Requirements

In some cases, the clearing grade requirements are actually lower than the prospective requirement. For example, Sheffield University are accepting students for their Law course with AAB, versus the published offer of AAA.

Also, all A-levels weren’t created equal and from face value, they are treated as such. Although it’s difficult to make this case without sounding elitist, is a candidate with AAB in known ‘softer’ subjects like General Studies, Critical Thinking and Home Economics really more suitable for university study than a student that got BBB in Maths, Chemistry and English Literature for example?

Too Much Choice in So Little Time

Those that are lucky enough to get AAB now have a huge range of options as to where to go. As alluded to before, these students may even be able to now get into courses which have had their grades lowered compared to the prospectus.

The problem is, choosing which university to go to is not something any student should make in a space of a couple of weeks – especially where there’s pressure to get it done sooner rather than later as accommodation spaces fill up.

It gives a prospective student limited time to look into things like what bursaries the university offers, course content and of course, the actual campus and department they would be studying in.

This could potentially lead to some late applicants students who didn’t do their research dropping out, accruing some extra student debt in the process. Time will tell if this ends up being the case.

Harms Social Mobility

The fact is, the majority of those from well-achieving schools, particularly those from private school, will get these grades or exceed them. Yet, the majority of those educated in the state sector (minus the grammar schools) won’t. It’s simply not a level playing field.

Another factor is the fact that only A-level and International Bacc students qualify, so those with “equivalent” scores in BTECs will miss out. This clarification was not made until very late on in the day, and this qualification is far more likely to be taken by those in state education.

It also serves to discourage mature students, who are more likely to be doing an Access to HE diploma as opposed to more traditional qualifications.

Are £9,000 Fees Really Putting People Off Of University?

Today on Twitter a lot of statistics were being about the decline in the number of UCAS applications. As it’s the first year that UK/EU undergraduate students will have to pay up to £9,000 a year on tuition fees for their university education (for the majority will be paid for through a Student Loan), any decline in applications is going to be viewed as “government policy discouraging people from applying to university.”

So low and behold:

“UCAS: Total applicant numbers at this stage of the cycle are 7.4% lower than at the same point in 2011.”

Cue general anger towards the government’s policy…

After reading the rather exceptional ‘The Tiger That Isn’t: Seeing Through a World of Numbers‘ I’ve become much more critical of statistics used by the media, and how any correlation may not be as significant as it seems. Statistics on higher education are no exception.

I submitted my UCAS in October 2009 when university fees were still capped at around £3,000. However, Sixth Formers knew an election would be taking place in May 2010 and that whatever party won, government spending would be slashed. It was generally predicted that between May and September 2010, tuition fees would increase.  Thus, I was told constantly by teachers that you had to apply in this cycle of UCAS. Even if you were planning to take a gap year, don’t wait until next year as the fees are likely to go up – apply as a now for a deferred place. And definitely don’t miss the UCAS deadline. 

Yet, my teachers were wrong about tuition fee rises, but only that they weren’t go to increase for applicants in the 2010/2011 UCAS cycle. Yet, with the Browne Review in progress at the time it became every more likely that the fees would be increasing for the 2011/2012 cycle. So I guess the message from teacher would’ve been similar to these applicants as they were for me: apply this year or regret it later.

Furthermore, a couple have pointed out that although the number of 18-year-olds applying to university had declined, the number of 18-year-olds had declined too. This led the Chief Executive of UCAS to conclude “The more detailed analysis of application rates for young people … shows a fall of just one percentage point in the application rate in England, with little change across the rest of the UK.” That could easily account those with gap year plans who chose to apply for a deferred place last year applying with their A-level grades this year.

So are £9,000 fees putting people off of university? I’m genuinely not sure, and at this stage I don’t think anybody can be. However, I’ve recently started employment as a Student Ambassador at the University of Sheffield, where I will be able to directly ask young people this (and hopefully convince them not to be!).

The Trouble With Politicians on Twitter

STOP! STOP WHATEVER YOU’RE DOING, NO MATTER HOW IMPORTANT IT IS. THIS REQUIRES YOUR FULL ATTENTION.

Ed Milliband wrote “blackbusters” in a tweet instead of a “blockbusters.”

I think he should resign immediately because there’s just no forgiving such a mistake. This clearly brings into question his ability to lead a major political party and run for Prime Minister at the next general election.

</sarcasm>

I absolutely love Twitter. You probably knew that as the chances are you were just referred to this post from my Twitter account (@Joannaaa). I also think it’s a great tool for political communication, whether that be for PR purposes, as part of an election campaign strategy or to facilitate communication between politicians and the public.

Yet, politicians setting up camp in the Twittersphere has not been entirely smooth. Here’s a round up of a few stories where a politician’s relationship with Twitter has (rightly or wrongly) caused a media stir…

Crying Over Spilt Milk – Ed Miliband and #blackbusters

In what was meant to be a tribute to the late Bob Holness, Labour Party leader Ed Miliband’s tweeted “Blackbusters” instead of “Blockbusters.” Cue complete media-frenzy and attack on Ed Miliband’s ability to be leader through the #blackbusters hashtag.

Firstly, if Guido is to be believed, he didn’t even write it. No surprises there as his Twitter seems to be largely for PR purposes and what politician would waste their time writing their own promotional tweets?

The theories behind what was the underlying cause of #blackbusters is just ridiculous.

The Telegraph is claiming “The slip-up suggests yesterday’s ‘race row’, in which Miliband was compelled to rebuke Diane Abbott, is still weighing on the Labour leader’s mind.” Really Telegraph?! I’m fully aware of your Conservative bias, but are we actually speculating it was some kind of Freudian (typing) slip?!

Another claim is that it couldn’t be a typo because ‘O’ and ‘A’ are on opposite sides of a QWERTY keyboard. So all of a sudden, ‘fat fingers’ are the only cause of typographical errors.

I make frequent typing errors on Twitter and, low and behold, it’s not always down to ‘fat fingers’. If you asked me why I make them, I would have no idea. That being said, it’s similarly ludicrous how Labour supporters are trying to claim that “Ed” may have been using a different kind of keyboard and therefore it was actually a ‘fat fingers’ typo.

I don’t think ever seen one letter cause such a stir.

Lesson #1: Don’t make a typo on Twitter where it couldn’t have been caused by ‘fat fingers’.  Especially one that could  be said to be a Freudian slip, because people will claim you’re thick. Proofread before publishing. Twice. Get a second opinion if necessary.

The Curse of The “Private” Conversation – Diane Abbott

In what was a public conversation between herself and another Twitter user, Diane wrote “white people love playing ‘divide and rule’”. Queue accusations of her being racist.

I’m not going to ridicule this one. Even if she didn’t intend to generalise white people as whole, saying such a blunt statement was always going to be picked up on.

It seems she fell victim to the ‘forgetting that Twitter conversations are actually there for public consumption’ syndrome. It can happen, particularly when conversing with friends. Politicians should be aware that Tweets can be ‘taken out of their original context’ and splashed across the media. Twitter shouldn’t be mistaken for a cosy platform to have political debates amongst friends (that’s what Facebook is for).

Lesson #2: Don’t sacrifice political correctness in the quest for 160 characters.

Trying to Take on The Twittersphere – David Cameron

Back in 2009, Dave remarked in a radio interview “The trouble with Twitter, the instantness of it – too many twits might make a twat.”

To an extent, it’s a pretty good line and I’m from the generation that doesn’t care if a (then) Prime Ministerial candidate ‘swears’ on a radio interview (although whether ‘twat’ is a swear word is a grey area). Although taking on a rather influential social media site, particularly one so popular with ‘the next generation’ of voters, was always going to be controversial.

So, did the line mean he was out of touch with the internet habits of youth and the rise of social networks ?!

Maybe. But after the media circus that was made out of Ed Miliband’s typo, it’s probably a good thing that the current Prime Minister doesn’t have one. And as long as the media are willing to obsessively ridicule any typo that may be made, Dave’s one-liner for not having a Twitter account is even more relevant.

Also, he would’ve struggled to find an appropriate username as his American doppelganger who is “much more awesome than the Prime Minister” is currently sitting on @Davidcameron.

Lesson #3: You don’t need a Twitter account to get ridiculed on Twitter, about Twitter.

So, Given Recent Events, Should Politicians Use Twitter?

Yes, they should. It feel Twitter is good for both politicians themselves and the public.

Obviously, it does require common sense from the politicians using it. Like every media appearance, you must be careful on what you say and not be ‘lured’ into a false sense of security that a) your @replies won’t be read by anybody else, and b) only having 160 characters to play with is not an excuse for not adhering to the codes of political correctness.

I would love for Twitter to be used more widely by politicians, and for more than just spewing out favourable PR coverage. Yet, the use of Twitter by politicians won’t be encouraged if Twitter users and the media claim that a (rather unlucky) typo completely undermines one’s ability as a politician, or a potential leader.

Calling someone a ‘bigot’ in “private” is one thing. Am I really want to care if you or your press secretary accidently types an ‘a’ instead of an ‘o’? If I am, it really is a new low for how the electorate is judging politicians’ abilities.