As we edge towards the start of the new academic year the annual clearing process is now well underway. This is possibly the most watched recruitment period ever, not least because of the government’s decision to remove the cap on student undergraduate recruitment
There has been considerable speculation on the impact of the changes to unlimited recruitment, with the most obvious being increased class sizes, more stress for teaching staff and pressure on institutions to recruit.
Some institutions may stand firm and feel that maintaining quality is paramount. However, for an institution with 20,000 students a minor increase of just 1% would require only 200 additional students to be accommodated for a tempting reward of £1.8 million in fees received. That must sound very appealing to finance departments, and not be too frightening for the folks charged with quality assurance. It will be quite surprising if most institutions do not look for increases in at least some of their courses.
What will be the impact of increased student numbers across the sector? Traditional “rejecting universities”, those that have more than enough applicants for places, will reject fewer and will fill their extra places easily.“Recruiting universities”, those that have to work a bit harder at getting their quota of students, will have a smaller pool to recruit from and so, to extend the fishy metaphor, may have to cast their nets a little further. Changes to immigration policy mean that it’s increasingly hard to recruit from overseas and so some may be tempted to recruit students with weaker academic results. This means they are going to have to work much harder (or be smarter) at getting these students through their course or face problems down the line with retention.
A similar uncapped student recruitment policy was introduced in Australia in 2012. A TES article reports that the experience down under resulted in around half of those weaker academic applicants failing to complete their qualification. That’s an alarming statistic for the institutions involved and a travesty for the students failed by the system.
If institutions do not develop new ways to support students it is possible that we’ll see similar attrition rates to those experienced in Australia. Clearly the less academic students are going to need extra care and attention if they are going to get through the course and complete. Institutions are going to need to support, monitor and develop more personal approaches to student interaction if they are going to see higher numbers graduating.
The same TES article highlights the view of Professor Hamish Coates, chair of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne. Professor Coates suggests there is a need for institutions to make greater use of technology to support the delivery of the curriculum and to administer assessment - as well as helping identify students who are struggling.As it is unlikely that institutions will increase staffing levels for relatively small student number increases, technology will certainly need to play its part.
Providing students with access to better support mechanisms involving a personal tutor, who the student can build a long term professional relationship with, offers the best chance of success. Regular meeting with personal tutors backed up with access to meaningful information such as grades, feedback and assessment data enables both parties to review progress and achievement. If things are not progressing as expected an early intervention, either through the software or face-to-facemight be all that’s needed to help keep the student on track – flourishing, not failing!