Sunday, 31 December 2017

Importance of the creative industries

We take creative activities very seriously at Beaumont despite the pressures from national curriculum guidance and league tables. We value these for the student development opportunities they offer.

Pleasing to read that recent government figures place the value of the UK creative sector at £84 Billion a year and suggest that 1.9 million people are employed in this sector. We also have record numbers of students successfully taking STEM subjects. In other words we offer a balanced curriculum to a balanced economy.

Not an eye catching headline but it is important that the creative element of our offer is recognised in hard numbers with education finances being stretched and increasingly difficult choices having to be made.

Career Earnings for graduates

There are many good reasons to go to university (and also many not to). The option, if available, deserves considerable thought. Much of this should not consider the financial aspect, but it is unavoidable.

As the number of graduates available for work increase it is to be expected that the differential between graduate and non-graduate earnings will narrow. This does appear to be occurring but at a slower rate than many expected. This is likely to be due to changes in the overall labour market which are increasingly rewarding high-skilled versus low-skilled jobs.

Recent figures suggest that over a career lifetime a female graduate will earn on average £250,000 more than a non-graduate and the figure for a male graduate is £170,000. Given that the average student debt is around £50,000, there does still appear to be a considerable financial advantage.

However, the analysis deals in averages and therefore treats all non-graduates the same in terms of average earnings. Those who take up higher apprenticeships will possess much higher skills than the average non-graduate and these will have been moulded to a specific group of employers' requirements. This is likely to mean that these individuals will command a commensurate premium in the market and will not have the either the burden of student debt or the job insecurity which can surround many new graduates.

It is not therefor surprisingly that many of these high quality apprenticeships are highly sought and competitive not just in terms of academic qualifications but also people skills.

new versus old student loan system

Just read an interesting study of expected loan repayments under the new loan system versus the old (the prior to 2012 system) - source Institute of Fiscal Studies. Perhaps surprisingly given the headline coverage, 40% of students (the lowest future earners) will pay less under the new system than the old, even with the tripling of tuition fees. This is because of the considerably higher threshold for repayment of any amount.

The analysis suggests that the highest future earners will pay back nearly £90, 000 in total, whilst the lowest 35% are expected to pay back less than £20,000.

This raises significant issues about the effectiveness of the new system, but does suggest that concern over future low earnings should not deter students' from attending university with student loan support.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

An upset in the university rankings (Portsmouth top whilst St Andrews bottom)

I am often asked "where does [insert name] university rank?" which is problematic and complex to answer, not least because in literal terms it depends on what ranking table you look at.

To add to the choice the Economist has analysed information released by the Department of Education which address the impact of attendance at individual universities on future earnings. The Economist has used this data to produce a ranking comparing graduates' wages with expectation regardless of their university the average for a UK graduate with their qualifications prior to university entry (to give a fair test of the value the individual university adds). As well as Portsmouth, top universities using this measure include the often feted (Oxford and Nottingham) and the less familiar (Brunel and Robert Gordon).

To be clear the two biggest determinants of graduate earnings outcome are the difference in entry qualifications of the student intake and the subject studied - those with an element of maths being the most rewarded, financially. However the Economist study adjusts for these  effects to draw out universities which seem to inject a better (or worse) future financial outcome than expected. The lower performing universities (on other ranking tables) that do well on the Economist's measure focus on vocational courses that have consistent earnings outcomes, which implies strong demand for these jobs and/or have has success at establishing links with successful industries. Bournemouth (fourth in this table) has a global reputation for visual effects and therefore strong links with the film industry. Southampton Solent has links with maritime design and shipping management and logistics.

Of course, there is a lot more to university choice than expected future earnings. I have always been very clear that the ability to develop one's talent and interest must always be a prime consideration. If however a closer examination of the data allows more students to make more informed choices and also forces universities to consider the quality of their offer, then should all be for that.

Subscribers to the Economist can look at their work in more detail at

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Musings on another UCAS year

Of course, the year isn't over until Results Day next Summer, but the deadline for applications has passed, and 140 have been made by Beaumont (or recently ex Beaumont) students. This figure matches the last couple in the sense that around 95% have applied to a university or higher education  establishment. This is despite the much higher cost of taking a UK degree course when compared to five years ago (tuition fees, loan interest rates and accommodation costs have all soared in this time) and also a reported fall in the income gap between graduate and non graduator employment.

If the cost of a degree is rising and the returns are falling, then one would expect demand to fall. So why is this not the case?

It could be due to the perceived value of the alternatives also falling in attractiveness.

Or it could be a local effect with Beaumont students not being average over a range of drivers, including quality of access to degree courses, the value placed on education for its own sake as well as, no doubt, some greater degree of financial comfort.

Or it could be that in a more economically uncertain world, accumulating greater education is seen as an insurance policy against financial dislocation, providing a global passport to future opportunities.

It is most likely a combination of all three factors at work, but is always interesting to monitor the impact of recent, dramatic change in the higher education sector. This is definitely not the end of this story.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

What's the value of taking a fourth A level?

As the latest A level reform finally starts to develop some consistency, with all reformed for a Sept 2017 start, this is a quality question. Universities will only make an offer based on three A levels, because they cannot discriminate against applicants who have been unable to take more, as these are likely to have been studying at less well-funded school and colleges. At the same time there is increasing doubt over the currency value of the new AS level. These changes can lead to a reasonable assumption that a full focus on just three A levels is always the rational choice.

However Beaumont retains a curriculum model that allows many A Level students, should they choose, to take four A levels (or a Double BTEC and two A levels, which amounts to the same teaching contact hours). This is because we see several important strands of value to the four course offer.

Firstly choosing to start with four, allows a student to take a subject with an element of risk, perhaps because it is new to the student or because it is more out of the GCSE comfort zone. If the subject does not work out, as the course progresses, then it can be dropped without damage. However it could become the centre piece of future study; my daughter chose, with some doubts, to take A level Psychology as a fourth AS level. As she had other options and interests at this stage, I doubt she would have chosen to take it as one of a narrow suite of just three. She went on to take an undergraduate degree and masters degrees in Psychology and now is employed by a large engineering design firm as an Occupational Psychologist. When she was a fifteen year old faced with making her A level choices she was not consciously aware that she had created an option for herself which would turn out to have tremendous value.

Secondly, the four A level option creates a safety net should one not work out either due to its academic challenge or a decline in interest in the subject content. Students have to do a minimum of three A levels, and the best possible grades must be achieved at the end of two years to progress in whatever direction is chosen.

Finally, some students have sufficient interest and ability to pursue four subjects all the way through the two year course. This can create further university course and career options for them. Also a decision to do more than the minimum and to succeed in doing this cannot fail to be an attraction to future employers.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Good advice from universities prior to sixth form subject choice

The Russell Group advice ("Informed Choices") detailed here about subject selection has been updated and enhanced. The key messages remain the same but perhaps there is a little more clarity and detail now.

The most useful element for Beaumont students is, I think, their 5 point plan, which I have summarised below:

1. Know what you want to study as a degree? 

Check what, if any, are the subject requirements - use UCAS Course Search to do this quickly 

2. Not sure what you want to study?

Keep your options open by choosing 1 or 2 "facilitating subjects" (these are the Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Maths, Further Maths, Languages, Geography, History and English Literature). There is  absolutely no advice of a need or a preference for 3.

3. GCSEs matter. Since the demise of AS levels universities are using this information more intensely and they often require certain GCSEs at certain standard in support of sixth form subject choices.

4. Think balance and suitable combinations, but do not choose a likely weak area to study just to create balance. 

5. Make sure you know why you are choosing a subject, especially if it is new to you. Be able to explain for a minute why this choice makes sense for you.