Government needs to do more to promote information about universities
pcassuto | 11 avril, 2012 00:36
Actively giving information could make a real difference to which universities students choose, says Gill Wyness. The Higher Education Statistics Agency
recently published data showing that in 2010/11 fewer state school
pupils were admitted to Russell Group universities than in the previous
Does this mean that fewer state school pupils are achieving the right grades to get in? Perhaps – but perhaps they are going to other universities. According to Hefce, almost 9,000 UK students in 2009-10 achieved grades of AAB or above, but attended universities where less than 10% of students achieved such grades. Some of these students have picked very specialist courses offered at only a handful of places. But the suspicion must be that many of these high achieving students were simply unaware that the experience and benefits of going to university differ enormously from one institution to another.
This is where the government's new initiative, the evocatively named KIS, comes in. KIS (or Key Information Sets) will appear on all university and college websites and are intended to help people choose the best university by providing information on graduate employment and salary prospects for every university course. The theory is sound, but many people who need to see this information may not look at it. To get the information to the people who need it most, CentreForum has set out a number of actions that government can take.
The most innovative idea is to get personalised information to prospective students and their families. To get child tax credits – which will cover almost all access groups – parents tell the government their incomes. The government should use this information to calculate the maintenance grant and loan eligibility of all children covered. The government could include young people's loan, fee and grant eligibility on the parents' tax credit statement, in very simple terms, with annual updates. This would be particularly relevant for parents with children aged 16 to 18 who are still in education, but could also be relevant to those with younger children to introduce parents to the idea and costs of higher education.
The government could even go further – by adding a URL that takes the parent (or their web-savvy offspring) to a personalised online grant and loan application form that already contained details of their income, address, and so on, and could be submitted with one mouse click. This would guarantee the child the fee and maintenance loan and grant amounts if they are accepted to a university that academic year. As well as giving a web address, the child tax credit would also have a QR code to take smart phone users straight to the form.
This approach – actively giving people information, rather than passively making it available – could make a real difference. It is also almost costless, so the government has no excuse not to act.
Gill Wyness is an education researcher at CentreForum, the liberal think tank, and LSE.