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As A-level results return to normality, is going to university still worth it? | UK News

The government wanted this year’s A-level results to mark a return to normality after education years blighted by COVID. 

Barring a few percentage points either way, they’ve got what they wanted. The statistics are broadly back to where they were in 2019 before the pandemic.

True, the number of A* and A grades was down but the high marks awarded during the teacher assessment years now look like the real anomaly.

A total of 414,940 applicants have got a place at university, four out of five of them at their first choice university.

Ministers and university vice-chancellors have been quick to congratulate those who fell short as well, pointing out that there are plenty of places in clearing, though many times more on traditional university courses than in apprenticeships. So far so familiar.

It would be a mistake however to think that there is not much to see here.

The British university sector is in turmoil and there are a growing number of reasons why school leavers should ask themselves whether it is worth going to university at all.

The government certainly wants you to think twice. Education Secretary Gillian Keegan gushed warm words on results day – she likes to point to her own experience of gaining a degree on day release while working as an apprentice.

The universities minister, Robert Halfon, who no longer has the “U” word in his title, takes the view that a “worthwhile” degree is one that results directly in well-paid employment within fifteen months of graduation.

This summer the government announced plans to cancel courses variously described as “Mickey Mouse”, “rip-off” and “low value” which, they say, do not lead to good jobs.

Then there are recruitment agencies. According to Hays, there has been a near doubling – a 90% increase – in the number of businesses stipulating a degree as a prerequisite for job applicants.

Simon Winfield, the CEO of Hays, questions the relevance of many university courses.

“The world of work is moving faster than many university curricula, and instead the opportunities to learn through practical application in the workplace will always be relevant.”

Of late, the university experience has not been what it was a generation ago.

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A-level disparities: What do we do next?

Anyone at school or university over the past four years had their education substantially disrupted by COVID and strikes by teachers and lecturers.

Courses and lectures were conducted remotely because of the lockdown. There was little chance for social interaction.

Online technology also opened up new possibilities which have not been entirely abandoned.

Around a quarter of lectures and tutorials offered this year are still “hybrid”, ie with the option of online rather than in-person learning.

Students contemplating high fees might also note that some of the best lecture courses from around the world can be found on YouTube, often for free.

Many young people are having trouble graduating this year because of the marking boycott by members of the University and College Union.

Freshers following them to university in the autumn can expect continued disruption as lecturers plan to strike again despite having a pay award imposed on them.

It costs a lot to go to university. A year’s tuition in England carries a price tag of £9,250 for UK residents and double that for international students.

By the time they’ve covered living costs for three or four years, many homegrown graduates will have debts of around £50,000.

The government is just lowering the threshold and extending the decades over which they will have to repay after leaving.

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This year there is a population bulge in 18-year-olds just as accommodation is getting more expensive because of mortgage increases for landlords.

In some cases, accommodation is becoming scarcer because properties are being used for Airbnbs and because universities are behind schedule with the construction of new properties for students.

In spite of the financial burden on students, university authorities say they are in danger of going bust.

If the £9,250 tuition fee had gone up in line with inflation it would now be over £12,000 but it is politically unpopular and has been capped. Sir Keir Starmer only recently dropped Labour’s pledge to drop the fees.

Universities calculate that they are losing around £2,500 per home student and it is alleged that this is forcing them to increase the proportion of international students, and to syphon domestic students into less expensive courses that do not require expensive facilities such as laboratories.

The tuition fee system has been vexed ever since it was set up.

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Sky’s Dan Whitehead explains available options if you didn’t get the A-level results you needed.

The industrialist Lord Browne, who reviewed it for the Blair government, envisioned a true market where there would be great variation in the fees charged – up to £14,000 for some courses.

But the government capped it with the result that almost all opted for the maximum £9,000.

When I was a lay member on the board of King’s College London, a delegation from the National Union of Students pleaded to be charged the top rate. If not, they thought their qualifications would be valued less than those from other Russell Group universities.

Given all this negativity it is not surprising that the number of young people, aged 18-24, who think “university is a waste of time” has gone up a bit to 32% compared to 22% who disagree. Almost half of them don’t know.

In reality, the picture is much brighter for universities here.

The UK is now close to hitting New Labour’s aspiration of half of school leavers having gone to university by the age of 30.

By the Sunak government’s utilitarian attitude, three-quarters of graduates are in work at or above the median national wage within 15 months of finishing their studies.

73% say their degree helped them find a job, and 75% say they built their skills while at university.

On average, graduates earn £10,000 a year more than those who didn’t go to university. Those who go into law, banking, the energy sector and retailing do best.

File pic

Children who are the first generation in their family to go to university tend to earn more than other graduates – although those from private schools are still more represented in the highest-earning echelons than those who qualified for free school meals.

97% of bosses say they still look to recruit graduates. Some jobs require a degree for entry – including “the professions” such as medicine, accountancy, law, science, engineering, and of course, by definition, academia.

The rapidly developing tech sector, identified by Hays recruiters, may be the exception – Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg were both Harvard dropouts.

Thanks to a “buyers market” some employers were guilty of “qualifications inflation” by requiring degrees although they were not strictly relevant.

If that trend is ending so much the better.

Equally many employers have cut back on training opportunities compared to a generation ago.

Forty years ago the routes into the media were paid, either on-the-job traineeships for school leavers or graduate traineeships in media organisations.

These no longer exist, instead students pay for their own training at institutions which effectively control access to unpaid “work placements”.

A maths exam in progress at Pittville High School, Cheltenham
A maths exam in progress at Pittville High School, Cheltenham

This can either be at the undergraduate level in the wrongly sneered at “Mickey Mouse” courses at “new universities” or specialist postgraduate master’s degrees.

The few remaining trophy “traineeships” at organisations such as the BBC tend to go to those who have already gone through this process including “work experience”.

Bhaska Vina, pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge admits that the “graduate premium” on earnings is a good reason to go to university.

He is right to point out that it is also “a moment of independence and personal discovery” where young people develop transferable analytical, communicative and collaborative skills alongside their studies.

This applies to all subjects and not just the business studies and STEM subjects favoured by the present government.

On balance then, if you are wondering whether to go to university or not, the evidence suggests that, yes, for all the present tribulations and expense it is probably still worth it.

Titan sub implosion: University friends pay tribute to ‘generous and kind person’ | World News

The university friends of the 19-year-old who was killed in the Titan sub implosion have paid tribute to the “incredibly generous and kind person”.

The four friends of Suleman Dawood, who attended Strathclyde University with him and only wanted to give their first names, described him as a supportive and empathetic friend.

Isaac said: “Suleman was not only an incredibly generous and kind person in the conventional sense, he also had a remarkable capacity for giving his time and empathy.

Suleman Dawood
Suleman Dawood

“Suleman embodied everything of a true friendship, he always displayed genuine concern for me and my friends, and was always there to give support.

“His presence in my life was a comforting reminder that someone truly cared for me and would be there with me through anything.

“The world has lost such a wonderful person and my love goes out to the Dawood family.”

Meanwhile, Calum said he has “not met anyone else like Suleman”.

More on Titanic Submersible

“Coming to university was an incredibly daunting and scary part of my life but Suleman, who was one of the first people I met, instantly made me feel welcomed and safe.

“He always found time to listen to you no matter how small it was and offer his thoughts, and was always putting others in front of himself.

New mission to debris site ‘under way’ – Titanic sub search latest updates

“He loved making memories with his friends, whether that be going for a meal, watching a film, or as simple as spending time with him.

“Anyone who knew him knew how much of a generous and down-to-earth person he was, who spoke often and highly of how much he loved and [how] proud he was of his family.

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Titan sub victim seen in footage

“Even writing this it is unthinkable to know that we have lost such an amazing friend.”

Another friend Joe was critical of online comments making assumptions about Suleman – the son of prominent Pakistani billionaire Shahzada Dawood who was also killed in the implosion.

“He was the most helpful person I have ever met and not just with helping with everyday problems.

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“He was incredibly kind and respectful and had great affection for his parents and his sister, which he always spoke very highly of.

“Anyone who knew him, even if it was for a short period of time knows how much of a loss this is for the world.”

Meanwhile, Cody said Suleman was “a good person who cared intently about someone he hadn’t even met” after Suleman approached the homesick student and offered him a sandwich.

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Teen on Titan ‘had a sense this was not okay’

Strathclyde University also offered its condolences to the Dawood family.

Professor Sir Jim McDonald, the principal and vice-chancellor of the university, said: “We are shocked and profoundly saddened by the death of Suleman Dawood and his father in this tragic incident.

Read more:
What happened to the Titan sub
Billionaire offered last minute-price tickets for doomed voyage but pulled out over schedule clash

“The entire Strathclyde community offers our deepest condolences to the Dawood family and all those affected by this terrible accident.

Earlier, Suleman’s high school paid tribute to the former student who “embodied the true spirit of exploration”.

Suleman’s aunt said he had been “terrified” before the trip, but had gone along as a Father’s Day present.

Tens of thousands of university staff on strike today – with more to come | UK News

Tens of thousands of university staff are set to go on strike today – the first of three walkouts planned for this week.

Some 70,000 members of the University and College Union (UCU) are set to take part in the action, spanning 150 universities across the UK.

Lecturers will be among those not turning up to work as a dispute over pay, contracts, and pensions continues.

Strikes are also set to take place on Tuesday and Wednesday.

It comes after the union’s higher education committee voted to continue action last week, and not to put the latest proposals from employers to a vote of its members.

Unions including the UCU had said that a deal with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) had been reached “on terms of reference for detailed negotiations”, including on pay and workload.

Read more:
Who is going on strike in 2023 and when?

But hopes of a breakthrough were later quashed by the UCU’s higher education committee.

Raj Jethwa, Universities and Colleges Employers Association chief executive, said the agreement “reflected the employers’ genuine desire to positively reset industrial relations in our sector”.

“There is a tangible offer on the table from employers to negotiate on the issues at the heart of this dispute,” he added.

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Monday marks the start of a seventh week of strike action by higher education workers.

Thousands of university staff to strike for 18 days between February and March | UK News

Full list of UK universities affected by upcoming UCU strike

Aberdeen, The University of

Abertay University

Aberystwyth University

Anglia Ruskin University

Arts University Bournemouth

Aston University

Bangor University

Bath Spa University

Bath, University of

Bedfordshire, University of

Birkbeck, University of London

Birmingham City University

Birmingham, The University of

Bishop Grosseteste University

Bolton, The University of

Bournemouth University

Bradford, University of

Brighton, University of

Bristol, University of

Brunel University

Buckinghamshire New University

Cambridge, University of

Canterbury Christ Church University

Cardiff Metropolitan University

Cardiff University

Central Lancashire, University of

Chester, University of

Chichester, University of

City, University of London

Courtauld Institute of Art

Coventry University

Cranfield University

Cumbria, University of

De Montfort University

Derby, University of

Dundee, The University of

Durham University

East Anglia, University of

East London, University of

Edge Hill University

Edinburgh Napier University

Edinburgh, University of

Essex, University of

Exeter, University of

Falmouth University

Glasgow Caledonian University

Glasgow School of Art

Glasgow, University of

Gloucestershire, University of

Goldsmiths, University of London

Greenwich, University of

Harper Adams University

Heriot-Watt University

Hertfordshire, University of

Huddersfield, The University of

Hull, The University of

Imperial College London

Institute of Development Studies (IDS)

Keele University

Kent, The University of

King’s College London

Kingston University

Lancaster, University of

Leeds Arts University

Leeds Beckett University

Leeds Trinity University

Leeds, The University of

Leicester, University of

Lincoln, University of

Liverpool Hope University

Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA)

Liverpool John Moores University

Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

Liverpool, University of

London Metropolitan University

London School of Economics

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

London South Bank University

Loughborough University

Manchester Metropolitan University

Manchester, The University of

Middlesex University

Newcastle University

Newman University

Northampton, The University of

Northumbria University

Norwich University of the Arts

Nottingham Trent University

Nottingham, The University of

Open University

Oxford Brookes University

Oxford, University of

Plymouth Marjon University

Plymouth, University of

Portsmouth, University of

Queen Margaret University

Queen Mary, University of London

Queen’s University Belfast

Reading, University of

Robert Gordon University

Roehampton University

Rose Bruford College

Royal Academy of Music

Royal Agricultural University

Royal Central School of Speech and Drama

Royal College of Art

Royal College of Music

Royal Holloway, University of London

Royal Northern College of Music

Royal Veterinary College, University of London

Ruskin College

Salford, The University of

SAMS at University of the Highlands and Islands

Senate House, University of London

Sheffield Hallam University

Sheffield, The University of

SOAS, University of London

Solent University

South Wales, University of

Southampton, University of

St Andrews, University of

St George’s, University of London

St Mary’s University College, Belfast

St Mary’s University, Twickenham

Staffordshire University

Stirling, The University of

Stranmillis University College

Strathclyde, University of

Suffolk, University of

Sunderland, University of

Surrey, University of

Sussex, University of

Swansea University

Teesside, University of

Trinity Laban

UCA University for the Creative Arts

Ulster University

University College Birmingham

University College London

University of the Arts London

University of Wales Trinity Saint David

Warwick, University of

West London, University of

West of England, University of the

West of Scotland, University of the

Westminster, University of

Winchester, The University of

Wolverhampton, University of

Worcester, University of

Wrexham Glyndwr University

Writtle University College

York, University of

York St John University

Teenager arrested on suspicion of murdering university student Luke O’Connor | UK News

A 19-year-old has been arrested on suspicion of murdering a student who was fatally stabbed in Manchester.

Luke O’Connor, 19, died in hospital after he was attacked in Wilmslow Road, Fallowfield, at about 2am on Wednesday.

A 19-year-old man was detained in the area on Friday evening and is being questioned.

Superintendent Helen Critchley, of City of Manchester South district, said: “The arrest of a 19-year-old suspect on Friday night is an important step in our investigation which is moving at pace.

“Since the tragic killing of Luke our investigation team has made significant progress as we do all we can to get justice for Luke’s family who we are continuing to support at this devastating time.

“There are still a number of inquiries being conducted to establish what happened in the early hours of Wednesday, but what is clear is that this was a senseless and needless loss of a promising young life that has shocked our student community and we are doing all we can to support them too.”

Mr O’Connor was a second year business management student at Manchester Metropolitan University and his family described him as “truly one of a kind, whose presence would light up any room”.

Read more:
Luke O’Connor was a “gentle giant with big hopes and dreams”, family say

In a statement on Thursday, they said: “Our hearts yearn for the loss of Luke; we are truly devastated by this tragedy.

“Luke was loved by so many people, and he knew how much he was loved in return.

“He loved the freedom of student living and studying and was loving life in Manchester.

“Luke was the youngest of three boys in our family and was a gentle giant with big hopes and dreams for the future.

“His biggest dream was to travel the world, but now Luke will never be able to fulfil that dream.”

Cost of living: University graduates want higher starting salaries – and many would take up side hustles to earn extra cash | UK News

University graduates across the UK want to see higher starting salaries for first jobs amidst the cost of living crisis.

New research by careers platform Bright Network, shared with Sky News, reveals students expect starting salaries to be over £30,000 – 25% more than the current national average starting salary.

Due to the impact and stress because of the rising cost of living, the undergraduate students surveyed expressed “genuine concerns around the economic climate, their careers and future working life”.

The financial challenges are forcing young people to find ways to supplement their main source of income. Almost eight in 10 of the students surveyed said they’d consider taking up a personal ‘side hustle’ to bring in extra cash.

Like tens of thousands of university students Alex Johnson is back on campus for his final year and life in a working world is becoming very real for him. But with the financial future looking bleak, finding a job which pays enough is proving difficult.

He told Sky News: “A lot of them just say the salary is competitive and it’s hard to get a good grasp on what that actually means. But the ones I do see, they range between 20k to 30k, which is alright, but as a student in the cost of living crisis, I’m really looking to get more than that and get paid for what I’m worth.”

So to help him during his final year and when he enters the world of work he’s taken on a side hustle which is already bringing in additional funds. From his accommodation at the University of Leeds, Alex runs a blog about Lego. His passion for building Lego means he can use it to earn extra money which helps him now as a student and will top-up his graduate job salary.

Alex runs a blog about Lego
Alex runs a blog about Lego

He said: “It supports me and allows me to do other things. I was able to go on a holiday this summer which as a student, when money is tight, I might not have been able to do otherwise. It will just help me boost that income since unfortunately it’s a struggle to find those good salaries out there.”

Working part-time in a marketing job doesn’t provide enough money for Natasha Birk
Working part-time in a marketing job doesn’t provide enough money for Natasha Birk

Working part-time in a marketing job doesn’t provide enough money for Natasha Birk who graduated from the University of Bath. She’s back living at home with her parents as her salary doesn’t allow her to be fully independent and self-sufficient. But the success from her eco-eyelashes business, on the side, means she can get there quicker.

Speaking to Sky News, she said: “When you’re doing that job search you find jobs that really appeal to you and the criteria will be really exciting but then you look at the salary and it can be a bit deflating. You have to be realistic though and think how would I actually be able to afford to live off that wage, even though it’s a job I love doing.”

Natasha runs an eco-eyelashes business
Natasha runs an eco-eyelashes business

But for businesses, boosting salaries by thousands of pounds is not a viable option, says Alison Edgar MBE, who advises small and big businesses on how to become successful.

She told Sky News: “If you look at the national living wage people are getting out of bed for a lot less than £30,000. A degree may give you an academic background, but it doesn’t actually give you the skills that you might need in that role. So if graduates want to have a side hustle to bring in that money, that’s great, but they should not be expecting an employer to pay that salary because they’d lose out on margins.”

She added: “25% on top of current salaries doesn’t fit into the current economics. A lot of graduates are new to the workplace, so they’ll need training and understand the business side of things. If they get that increase you’d have to increase the salaries of all the employees that were and that is not going to work for businesses economically. It’s not a sustainable model.”

Jeremy Paxman to step down as University Challenge host | Ents & Arts News

Jeremy Paxman is to step down as the host of University Challenge, the BBC has said.

The broadcaster, 72, has presented the programme for the past 28 years. It celebrates its 60th birthday this year and becomes the BBC’s longest-running quiz show.

Paxman will film his final episode in the autumn, with his final series airing between 29 August through to summer 2023.

His resignation comes after he revealed he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in May last year.

Paxman said of his time on the show: “I’ve had a blast hosting this wonderful series for nearly 29 years.

“I’ve been lucky enough to work with an amazing team and to meet some of the swottier brains in the country. It gives me hope for the future.”

His replacement will be announced later this week, the BBC said.

Kate Phillips, the director of the corporation’s unscripted content department, said: “Since the BBC revived University Challenge in 1994 Jeremy has been at the front and centre of the show’s success and is without doubt one of the world’s finest and most formidable quizmasters.

“We are hugely grateful to Jeremy for his dedication to the programme for an incredible 28 years, he will be much missed by us all and the show’s millions of viewers.”

Sunak vows to crack down on university degrees that do not improve ‘earning potential’ | Politics News

Rishi Sunak has vowed to phase out university degrees that do not improve students’ “earning potential”, under plans to reform education if he became the UK’s next prime minister.

In proposals announced tonight, the Tory leadership contender pledged to create a Russell Group of technical colleges.

The changes would mark “a significant stride towards parity of esteem between vocational and academic education,” his campaign said.

Were he to beat Liz Truss in the leadership contest, Mr Sunak committed to strengthening networks of technical institutions and their links with industry, as well as giving them powers to award degrees.

“A good education is the closest thing we have to a silver bullet when it comes to making people’s lives better,” the former chancellor said.

He promised his reforms would “take a tougher approach to university degrees that saddle students with debt, without improving their earning potential”.

Mr Sunak attended fee-paying private school Winchester College, before studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at Oxford University.

Read more:
The Battle for Number 10: A test of the breadth, depth and agility of the country’s next PM

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Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak were questioned about the economy, their records, previous views, and their trust in politics.

The former chancellor promised to assess university degrees through their drop-out rates, numbers in graduate jobs and salary thresholds – making exceptions for nursing and other courses with high social value.

In an apparent bid to appeal to the right, Mr Sunak’s campaign said he would also expedite the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, which the government argues is necessary to tackle growing intolerance in universities.

Opponents suggest it is aimed at addressing a problem that does not exist and could protect hate speech.

Mr Sunak also pledged to improve professional development for teachers, progress plans announced by the Government in June to open 75 new free schools, and give school trusts an “accountability holiday” for two years after taking on underperforming schools.

As part of her plans for education, rival Liz Truss has committed to replacing failing academies with new free schools, and promised that pupils with top marks at A level would get an automatic invitation to apply for Oxbridge and other prestigious universities.