Many people reading this may already know me as Minister of Higher and Further Education, but that is a slightly misleading title given how I view my role.
Although I work closely with universities and colleges themselves, the vast majority of my time is actually spent supporting, advocating for, and helping students and prospective students. Basically, making sure students get fair treatment.
Over the past two years, Covid-19 has disrupted virtually every aspect of student life. Much of my time has rightly been spent advocating for causes that have helped bring some normality back to your college experience, but as we begin to recover from Covid-19, it’s time the important question of transparency for students becomes a priority.
The transparency of your university is not something that I regard as a fuzzy ideal: for me, every student has the right to receive accurate information about their course and their prospects from their university before making decisions that will help determine its future.
After all, the decision to go to college is a decision that involves a huge investment of time and resources over several years.
So with that in mind, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for students to expect their course to deliver on the promises made to them and lead to good graduate work.
Students deserve transparency and information from start to finish, knowing clearly from the start where a particular course may lead them and an honest acknowledgment of the doors that certain courses simply won’t open. However, this is not always the case.
Some universities offer courses with a dropout rate of over 40%
The disappointing truth is that some universities are not as upfront or open with helpful information as they could be.
Some universities continue to offer courses with a dropout rate of over 40%, which prospective students considering taking this course should be aware of in advance.
Universities should actively inform applicants of these results in their prospectuses – students shouldn’t have to wade through the fine print to find this kind of basic information.
Students deserve better – they deserve fair treatment
Other courses have very poor outcomes for graduates, where for example only a third of students who start the course will get a graduate job or continue their studies. Just recently, my colleague, Mark Pawsey, MP, discovered that an early years, care and education course in his area advertised ‘career progression’, but in reality the course lacked the accreditation needed to actually work in the early childhood sector.
I was shocked by that and the impact it had on Mark’s voter – frankly, that’s not enough. As the minister is committed to representing students and fighting for your right to make informed choices, such practices are totally unacceptable and I would go so far as to say that they clearly mislead students. Students deserve better – they deserve fair treatment.
If a university wishes to organize a particular course, it has the right to do so, but it should not hide information from students that would help them make a better decision about their course and their prospects.
I have already cracked down on this particular case and several others, but in the future, I will personally name and blame any university that does not provide students with the transparency they deserve.
The importance of clear and transparent information from universities, however, goes well beyond the courses themselves. The ability of disadvantaged students to excel in school and college and then enter university depends in part on how open and honest universities are about how they will help people from all walks of life Enter university.
The United are too focused on “entering” and not on “going up”
We currently have what are called access and participation plans, which ask universities to establish their plan to improve access and success for students from underrepresented groups.
But while these plans are helping to ensure that more disadvantaged students have access to college than ever before this year, universities continue to focus too much on getting in and not enough on getting in. integrate” into these plans.
True social mobility isn’t just about getting students to enroll in courses — it’s about making sure they complete those courses and get good graduate jobs.
So last week I announced that we were reviewing these plans to simplify them, to tackle dropout rates and to support disadvantaged students towards, during and after university as they move towards more qualified and better paid.
Online learning should ‘not be used by universities as a cost-cutting or convenience opportunity’
I also want universities to become more transparent about the return to face-to-face learning. During the uncertainty of Covid-19 and before the vaccine was rolled out for students (over 90% of students are now vaccinated), face-to-face learning was rightly put on hold.
However, this temporary change in learning should not be used by universities as an opportunity for economy or convenience.
Face-to-face learning is an essential part of almost any course, and while virtual learning is a fantastic innovation, it should only ever be used to complement and enhance your learning experience, not to harm. I have written to universities across the country expressing my expectation that universities will listen to their students.
Universities must be fully transparent with students about returning to face-to-face learning and there are options available to students if they feel they have not received what they were promised – more ‘Half a million pounds have already been reimbursed by providers as a result of complaints made to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education on a wide variety of issues, and greater clarity of the from universities will help even more students get refunds, if needed. Above all, universities must listen to students when making changes to the way courses are delivered.
Students deserve good quality face-to-face instruction
I must also take this opportunity to express how disappointed I am with the decision of some teachers to go on strike at this time.
Students have been through enough in the past few years and any further disruption to their learning is totally unfair and totally unnecessary. Students deserve good quality face-to-face education from their universities and we need a resolution that delivers this to them as soon as possible.
This is what the vast majority of teaching staff want and what students rightly expect. Let’s not forget that the strike last time did not solve the problem – but it did disrupt the education of the students. I urge the Universities and Colleges Union to come to the bargaining table and put students first, because they deserve fair treatment.
Finally, I want to both thank and assure every student reading this. Thank you for your resilience and determination throughout this pandemic, and you have my assurance that I will continue to fight for your right to all information so that you can make informed choices about your future.
• ‘Teachers who go on strike will not help students in any way,’ says minister for universities
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• Everything you need to know about upcoming teacher strikes