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What's going on in higher education?

Natasha Ross looks at the recent changes in higher education – and how they will affect you.

Since 2010 the coalition government has embarked on a series of changes to how universities and higher education works. Some, like the raising of tuition fees to £9,000, have attracted media attention; others have mainly been discussed by those involved, but haven’t been seen as so important to the wider public.

Money Money Money

There have been some universal changes to the loan and assistance students get while they study. The Student Calculator can help you find out how much support from the government you will receive – but some financial support depends on where you go to university. As part of the new tuition fee arrangements, the government ruled that any university charging over £6,000 in fees would have to put money towards widening access to university. This means putting measures in place to attract and support students from backgrounds that make it less likely that they will make it to a university. Universities might offer certain students cash bursaries or money off their tuition fees, as well as other support like accommodation discounts. The exact support depends on what your parents earn, and is also different from university to university, but it’s worth asking any institution you are looking around about what bursaries they offer – especially if you’re worried about the cost of university!

More information…

Coming into effect this September is a scheme aimed at giving students more and better information about the universities they are looking at. The Key Information Sets or KIS, will provide students with information about a number of things, all in one place. This is standardised information universities have to provide. The KIS will feature a broad range of information ranging from student satisfaction to how much of the course is assessed by exams versus coursework and other handy information like the proportion of students in employment or further study six months after leaving the course. The aim of the KIS is to give future students the information they need to make an informed choice about what they want from their university. There will even be a KIS 'Widget' featured on university websites which provides you with the information while you look around

Stricter limits on university places

The government has also imposed a cap on student numbers, and given each university a limit to the number of students it can recruit. This makes universities much stricter on how many students they admit, and offers places to. The government has allocated some universities extra places based on two criteria. The first is grades, this year universities can recruit over the limit if the students have achieved AAB grades at A-level. This means that universities will be fighting it out for these students, next year the cap will change to ABB and students with these grades will become popular to universities. This also means that universities will be stricter when it comes to predicted grades, if you are given an offer on grades of AAB this year or ABB next year, it’s less likely the university will let you in anyway if you miss one of your grades, which historically they might have.  The other way for universities of getting more student spaces comes under the description of 'value for money'. This basically means how cheap the course is. The policy allowed an extra 20,000 places to be available for universities charging less than £7,500 for their courses, which meant some universities decided to change their fees to charge less and make them applicable for the extra places. This increased the number of universities with lower fees for their courses. In 2013, there will also be a further 5,000 places available for institutions charging less than £8,250.

Will students be more demanding?

Some of the more complicated changes in higher education are yet to come, and there is still disagreement over whether the changes will change student behaviour. There is certainly reason enough for a culture shift, as not only are some students paying three times more for their education than those that came before them, but in some subjects there is a move where students become the only funders of their education. In the humanities subjects, previously students funded some of the course, and the government funded some through giving extra money to the university, but the government is phasing out public spending on these subjects – so now students pay ALL of the costs of their course. Many are now arguing that students will become more demanding, and act more like consumers in a shop – asking more about 'value for money'. The debate around this is highly charged – does a student acting like or being treated like a consumer devalue the nature of their education? Or does it put more power into students’ hands to shape their education and demand more for their money?

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