It’s August and UK Higher Education is once again front-page news

Untitled design (5)

Dan Beynon, Head of Education, SMRS

As exam results happen this month across the UK, Higher Education is front page news for a few weeks. I wish it was this big a priority for more of the year as perhaps the single biggest challenge (of many) faced by universities in the UK is the inaction of current policymakers, who don’t seem to appreciate the importance of HE and are unwilling to support it effectively.

As with all news reporting on any subject, there will be varying levels of fairness and accuracy, combinations of opinions and facts and some very challenging individual experiences that are cast as the norm.

The lack of action on behalf of successive governments and education ministers has played a significant role in many of the dramatic headlines that we will see across the media this week, whether that is in print, radio or tv. So here are a few examples of the type of headlines that will appear and some of my thoughts on the important supporting information that might not accompany those headline stories:

  • Will see ‘Mad scramble for places’ – won’t see ‘No significant change to exam results and late application process as once again the well-established system allows 1000s of applicants, who don’t quite get the grades they wanted, to quickly find a place on a similar course at another of our great universities’.
  • Will see ‘You need to be very quick in Clearing on fiercely competitive results day’ won’t see ‘You always need to be very quick in Clearing on results day for some courses at some universities’.
  • Will see ‘Foreign students taking UK students’ university places’ – won’t see ‘International students once again help to maintain our great universities, plugging the gap as the government takes no action on the funding model of UK Higher Education. 1000s more UK students will find a place than would have been possible if those international students didn’t choose the UK in a hugely competitive global education market.’
  • Will see ‘Grade awards too harsh’ (late substitute for recent headlines ‘grade inflation runs riot’) – won’t see ‘Awarding organisations implement government requirement to adjust grade awards back to pre-pandemic patterns of improvement’.
  • Will see ‘Grade inflation causes dropout rates to soar’ won’t see any actual cross sector evidence of this.
  • Will see ‘Accommodation crisis at our universities’ – won’t see student accommodation has been in crisis for years and universities are working very hard to address this issue as quickly as possible. The cost-of-living crisis has exacerbated the problem and urgent government action is needed to increase maintenance grants.
  • Will see ‘Alternatives to traditional degrees in huge demand’ – won’t see ‘Alternatives to traditional degrees are vital to the long-term education of our growing number of 18-year-olds. These alternatives are growing in popularity, but that demand is not even nearly matched by supply, so they are not a realistic option for most young people at present’.

And finally expect the volume to drop a little for a short time on the ‘there are too many rip-off courses at too many universities’ narrative – this one will be dialled down as everyone remembers/realises/acknowledges how very popular, important and life-changing UK universities are.

Good luck everyone. It will be a tense, busy and tough week for all involved whether students, parents, university staff or those supporting our universities… but thousands of people will again find the life-changing courses and experiences that they are looking for!


Dan Beynon