Westminster image to be added

 by Jon Cheek
, posted On 17 May '19
 Director, UniTasterDays.com

Meeting notes – to Westminster, from me.

I have the opportunity to introduce UniTasterDays.com and our National review of university guidance to a member of parliament this evening - who has kindly offered me a meeting to find out more about UniTasterDays and how they can help.

I am very grateful for this opportunity. I have not known a busier time in Westminster – so the opportunity to discuss the review with a person of significant influence is a fantastic one. Whilst making advance notes, I thought it would make a useful blog on the site too. So here goes.

Before I start, I am focussing here on the UniTasterDays National Review of University Guidance in Schools and Colleges. Circa 18% of schools and colleges in England completed the survey which provided the results base for the review. This mapped the coverage and cold spots relating to the university guidance provided by schools and colleges throughout England. A representative sample was collected.

If you have not read about it, I would encourage you to take a look at: https://www.unitasterdays.com/nationalreview. This review was produced in collaboration with HELOA and has received support throughout the sector, by some of the leading players in university and school career guidance, including the Careers Development Institute, Careers England and NEON.

As well as the opportunity to speak at many events, I have also sent copies to the leading stakeholders in this area, including leaders in Westminster such as the Universities Minister, the Chair of the Education Select Committee and the Secretary of State for Education. It has also been sent to UCAS, Universities UK, The Student Loans Company and the Office for Students to name just a few organisations who will have an interest in the findings.

So, in response to the report, what would I like to see – and what is on my list to discuss with the MP!

1: Quite simply – for people in Government to read our review:

I would like those with the power and influence to make changes to the school-university relationship to at least read our review. UniTasterDays did this research because we felt it was critical to explore what schools are (and aren’t) doing in relation to university guidance.

There was no commercial objective here. In fact – the review cost a lot of money to undertake – including an email campaign to over 60,000 teachers to support response rates and ensure we generated a representative sample of responses. We now just want to ensure the work has an impact on future policy - and that starts by incredibly influential people finding time amongst other priorities to digest our key findings.

Student finance image

2: It is crucial student finance guidance is improved – and responsibility is taken for it

Review after review cites student finance as the biggest barrier to university for students. In our research, 62% of school staff indicated the tuition fee and living expenses were the most prominent reason their students may not be considering university participation.

UniTasterDays also did some work with The Student Room for our Teachers’ Guide to University brochure in 2018, where 600 university students were surveyed, looking back on the university information provided at their school. What did students look back and want to know more about if they had their time again? Again, student finance.

But no one seems to be taking direct responsibility for student finance guidance in schools. I have discussed my concerns with the Student Loans Company (they don’t have a student-facing remit in England), the Office for Students, I have also written to Government and due to changes in post – three Universities ministers. Today is the first opportunity of a meeting to discuss my concerns with a person of political influence.

It is a social injustice that students are not going to university because they think (or have been told by others) that they can’t afford it, without being introduced to effective student finance guidance to support them with this decision first. I don’t mean talks here – I mean exercises. We need to make student finance fun and aspirational.

Let me provide some context. As well as supporting schools to find student fees and finance events, UniTasterDays also deliver independent workshops in schools. We start sessions with a simple exercise looking at student loan repayments based on future earnings to explore knowledge before the session. Students rarely are anywhere even close to the answers before the workshop. But after a 30 minute session they get it. These finance sessions show incredible impact.

So what would I like to see – once the student finance review is finally concluded and we know what the outcomes are (the current waiting game does no one any favours) I would love to see responsibility taken for student finance guidance in schools. It is not for me to say who takes responsibilty for it (I am happy to volunteer!) it is just crucial that the importance of this is acknowledged and an organisation is tasked with it.

3: Schools and colleges need financial support for university visits

The Gatsby benchmarks were introduced late in 2017 as part of the careers strategy– and in university terms, the crucial one is Benchmark 7 – which states that:

1] By the age of 16, every pupil should have had a meaningful encounter with a provider of the full range of learning opportunities.

2] By the age of 18, all students who are considering applying for university should have had at least two visits to universities to meet staff and students.

We need to acknowledge that transport to university visits come at a considerable cost. You can’t just expect schools, especially rural and coastal institutions without a university on their doorstep, to be able to fund this. Someone needs to pay – it is unrealistic to introduce these requirements without access to increased funds to support increased activity. As a result - the greatest barrier outlined in the review for schools booking university visits was simply the cost of transportation to attend them (57%).

I am working with a school on a project at present – and we have been planning an aspirating-raising trip to one of the leading universities in the country (which is also one of the leading institutions in the world too!) for their students. The university can’t fund the transport – so the school has to try and secure the funds for a 200 mile round trip for a group of students. The costs can be considerable. One school noted in the research that transport costs for just one university visit equated to £1,400 for four coaches!

4: Even commercial organisations need support

Last month, news was released that Inspiring Futures ceased trading. They were a provider of careers information, advice and guidance for young people and I share the thoughts of Careers England who expressed sadness to see the closure of an organisation that has been providing careers guidance to young people for over 75 years.

UniTasterDays offer a different business model but this is another resource which supports a significant government agenda. Yet UniTasterDays relies on listing fees from participating universities to cover running costs and bookings by schools for our independent workshops. Alternative funding sources would allow UniTasterDays to be free to universities allowing the provision of a more comprehensive centrally funded resource that could have a far greater impact on the government’s social mobility goals. Just a thought…

Teachers, careers colleagues and support staff: request your FREE UniTasterDays Teachers' Guide to University brochure.

This brochure has been produced by UniTasterDays.com in collaboration with HELOA - to support the university guidance that is provided in secondary schools and colleges.

Editorial has been provided by over 35 colleagues at universities and higher education institutions throughout the UK. On topics covering how to support students with their university decisions, university events, widening participation & fair access, UCAS applications (including writing school references) and more. It also includes the key student finance facts from Martin Lewis.

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