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Education: Who is getting into university

by
01 February 2013

New UCAS data provides much for the faith community to get to grips with, says John Howson

SHUTTERSTOCK

Gender difference: women are more likely to opt for higher education

Gender difference: women are more likely to opt for higher education

THE publication by UCAS of the final data about the 2011-12 admissions cycle for degree courses provides some interesting pointers for the church university sector.

The rise in fees has not, perhaps, dampened enthusiasm for degree courses as much as some might have thought. Indeed, for the remainder of this decade, the largest influence on recruitment is likely to be the reduction in the total number of 18-year-olds, as the temporary decline in the population feeds through to the older teenage group, just as secondary school rolls start rising again among those at Key Stage 3, transferring from the primary sector.

There are other factors that will affect the sector, however. Unless high-tariff institutions reduce the number of places on offer, to reflect this population decline, then lower-tariff providers will have to absorb a proportionally larger percentage of any reduction in the number of applications.

Until this reduces the number of applicants to a figure below the number of places on offer at an institution, this is likely to be mainly reflected in a greater use of clearing by some universities. This will especially be the case if there is further instability in the outcomes of the examination system, such as was experienced with the 2012 GCSE English results.

Church universities, and especially those in cathedral cities away from the conurbations, will need to be aware that 240,000 of the 407,000 UK domiciled students accepted in 2012 were studying at institutions less than 50 miles away from their home address, and more than 170,000 of them were travelling less than 25 miles to study. By comparison, just over 80,000 students travelled more than 100 miles to study for a degree.

With even more regional institutions being granted university status, the mix of location and course may be critical in the battle faced by some universities to fill their places.

OF COURSE, they could always try reducing their fees. This year, the average fee charged by universities in England, before any waiver was applied, was £8378, slightly lower than the £8500-£8600 charged elsewhere in the UK. The average tuition fee of acceptances to higher-tariff institutions was £8981, compared with £7919 at lower-tariff institutions.

Acceptances to degree courses were at an average fee of £8541 - higher than those for foundation degrees (£6660), and HNDs (£6047). Of course, these averages are likely to have been affected by the mix of arts, humanities, science, and other courses at the different institutions. But there is little reason why fees should rise over the next few years, and every incentive for them to reduce in real terms.

Most worryingly, many students do not realise that the interest payments start as soon as they draw down their fees, even though repayments do not start until after their course ends and their income exceeds the minimum threshold.

A student who started a three-year degree course at a church university, and then chose to study for a primary PGCE, could have incurred £36,000 in fees. The Government's website, Directgov, suggests that this may mean a total repayment package, once interest had been added, of more than £90,000. Without the PGCE, repayments would fall to less than £60,000 on the £27,000 borrowed; a massive disincentive to train as a teacher.

THERE is interesting news from the UCAS statistics about the changing social mix of undergraduates. There has been a steady increase in the cohort entry-rates for young people of all backgrounds, with the largest increases for the most disadvantaged.

For the cohort aged 18 in 2011 (and 19 in 2012), the entry rate increased for those in the more disadvantaged areas. There was no other growth. This trend is important, because university admissions from those from less disadvantaged backgrounds are close to saturation point: those from disadvantaged backgrounds offer universities probably the only hope for growth - at least until the overall cohort size starts increasing again, early in the 2020s.

There is also something of a gender difference emerging at undergraduate level. Among 18-year-olds from the UK, women were a third more likely to enter higher education in 2012 than men. In 2012, the entry rate fell for both men and women, but the decrease for men was four times greater than for women.

Men are more likely to be accepted than women, however, although the difference reduced in 2012. But women remain more likely to enter higher education than men are to apply (there is food for thought for the faith-school sector, to see whether their students' destinations match this trend).

UNIVERSITY governors and managers are likely to have to keep abreast of this sort of data, to help them plan for the future. The type of financial mistakes that have arisen in some of the church universities in the past are unlikely to be tolerated in the future.

Just as there are concerns about the leadership pipeline for faith schools; so the faith community will need to ensure that there is a suitable flow of high-quality leaders for the higher-education sector, if it is to retain and develop its distinctive message in an over-crowded market place, where - as the 2011 census revealed - adherence to the Christian faith is declining among the younger generation.

Professor John Howson is director of DataforEducation.info, a visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University, and a visiting Senior Research Fellow at Oxford University's Department of Education.
www.ucas.com/documents/End_of_Cycle_Report_12_12_2012.pdf

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