I have recently taken over as the Biology admissions tutor at my institution. It is a role I enjoy as I get to meet lots of young people keen on saving the world and proud/worried parents keen on seeing their kids do well. It’s a bit like being the departmental goalkeeper though – if we recruit well it is obviously because of my fantastic colleagues, if we do badly it’s obviously going to be my fault.
It’s part of my role to stand up in front of an audience of potential students and parents of potential students and “sell” our courses on behalf of my colleagues and institution. In the past this was easy. I was part of a small Centre based on a rural campus with 8 teaching-focussed academics and 40 to 50-ish recruits a year, embarking on programmes that I had helped to develop and knew inside-out.
(The response of some academics to the brave new world of paid-for HE and what it means for universities)
Things have changed. Now I’m part of a large School of Environmental Sciences with a much more complex (and exciting) offering to potential students. I have to sell something I know less well in a School that is inhabited by a full range of academics including specialist teaching fellows and research professors.
The other thing that has changed is that each of our potential “clients” is looking at spending ~£27 000 in fees plus living costs in order to get a degree. There is, rightfully, a lot of focus on what this means for graduates. However there is a degree of pressure generated also on academics and institutions – we are, more than ever, expected to deliver. When most of us went to university we had grants, housing benefit and could claim dole during the holidays. We were definately not rich, but we had enough to get by and life was pretty good. The attitude to university was, I think, different to that of today. It was more about education and less about getting a career. The pressure was pretty much on the student to get what they could out of university. In effect the state paid students to get an education in return for which it was implicit that they would contribute to society – not necessarily financially. Today students pay us to help them get a degree in return for which we owe them a decent level of service and, whatever their level of ability, need to try to make sure that they will get a return on their investment.
In my dealings with students and parents in the last year or so, two types of comment have been common. From students “I’m paying £27 000 for my degree”. Note that the emphasis is often on the piece of paper as much as the education. To many students the mark they achieve has become as or more important as what they learn. And from parents comments around “I don’t care about your research profile, I want to know that you will be fully focussed on my daughter’s education” and “How likely are they to be to get a job as a marine biologist/ecologist/zoologist/biologist”.
It is more important than ever that prospective students and their parents spend time investigating the institutions that they are considering and they base their final decision on as much information as possible. It’s also worth remembering that, should you make the wrong decision, you can usually swap universities to do a similar course at the end of your 1st year.
Ten things prospective students should consider when visiting a university:
- How much contact time do you get with academics during the course?
- Do you meet enthusiastic academics and undergraduates on open days or just paid postgraduates?
- What transferrable and subject specific skills does the programme offer you?
- What are living costs going to be?
- Is there on-campus accommodation of a decent standard?
- Can you see student evaluations of modules offered by the department?
- What support is offered for SPLD?
- Are most academics in the department members of the Higher Education Academy?
- What’s the male:female staff ratio?
- What scholarships are there available based on need or merit?