Help shape gov't policy: David Willetts wants your opinions

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shooks
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The brand-new TSR offices were officially opened last Friday, and David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, came along to officially open our new home.

While he was here, we asked him a few questions - you can see our David Willetts interview in full here.

One thing we asked was 'what can The Student Room do to help students even more?'. Willetts' answer was:

It would be interesting to hear from you where you think the information gaps are. You would be able to follow the student reactions and conversations which would identify where they're frustrated.

There are areas of information which they're not currently getting; [knowing about that] enables us to have conversations with universities about making that information available.
So...over to you. What additional information do you think universities need to make available? What is currently lacking and what do you want to know more about?

Post your thoughts on this thread and we'll make sure they're passed on to David Willetts.

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Juichiro
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Some community chosen TSR users should be allowed in these offices. TSR elected representatives if you wish. Users need more control of a site that is supposed to be about students.
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catoswyn
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Universities vary greatly with the quality and timing of their information so I would suggest:

1. Office for Fair Access making it compulsory for universities to have up to date and accurate information regarding bursary schemes each year. For entry in 2013 some universities had still not clarified their positions well into the application cycle, notably Reading. Others were very clear and could even talk about their future plans for 2014, notably Warwick. For low income students it is essential such information is available in a timely and clear manner across the sector while they are making their choices.

2. Data regarding actual teaching contact hours as to whether this is lecture, seminar or personal tutorial. This could be covered by module publication as below.

3. 'Whichuni' include the data on percentage of acceptances to applications in their data set for each university. It would be great to see this on the Unistats site too.

4. Compulsory publication by universities of the exact data for each module taught in a subject, rather than just naming it. It is essential when choosing a course to look closely at what will actually be studied, in what format, how it will be tested and who is projected to teach it, learning outcomes and examples of the reading list for that module. Many universities do publish such data on their sites and it is extremely useful for ensuring a good fit between applicant and course (see Exeter or Bristol). However many, such as UWE and Winchester, to take just two examples, do not. Ringing universities in 2012-2013 to check what modules actually included flung up some startling cases where programme leaders did not even recognise the titles of the units that were said to be on offer. This means some universities are recruiting with incorrect information about their own courses! They must be expected to be held accountable for their own 'sales literature'. As students have little recourse once they are at university then it is even more essential to ensure the course is described in full and accurately before a student chooses to spend up to £27,000 completing it! Module publication, subject by subject, in the normal academic format would solve this problem.

4. One course I know of is asking for a deposit of £500 in advance to guarantee a place on their HNC/HND course, refunded on receipt of the fees from SFC. This seems to counter the 'free at point of access principle' and may be impossible for low income students to raise in advance. I think this practice should be outlawed immediately.

There should be a set of these type of things issued to universities as 'best practice' to encourage them.

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catoswyn
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Just remembered... Student Finance Company has the contract from Dept.BIS. Could the department please insist on improvements to their on line system and their general efficiency. I have had three children in total use the various finance systems over the years and this year has been by far the worse. I have still not got everything sorted in May despite starting in January. If Kafka were writing 'The Castle' today he would set in it the Student Finance Companies offices. It is not a good service for users and I feel the department should look into what is happening and why.
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Joinedup
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(Original post by catoswyn)


-snip-
4. Compulsory publication by universities of the exact data for each module taught in a subject, rather than just naming it. It is essential when choosing a course to look closely at what will actually be studied, in what format, how it will be tested and who is projected to teach it, learning outcomes and examples of the reading list for that module. Many universities do publish such data on their sites and it is extremely useful for ensuring a good fit between applicant and course (see Exeter or Bristol). However many, such as UWE and Winchester, to take just two examples, do not. Ringing universities in 2012-2013 to check what modules actually included flung up some startling cases where programme leaders did not even recognise the titles of the units that were said to be on offer. This means some universities are recruiting with incorrect information about their own courses! They must be expected to be held accountable for their own 'sales literature'. As students have little recourse once they are at university then it is even more essential to ensure the course is described in full and accurately before a student chooses to spend up to £27,000 completing it! Module publication, subject by subject, in the normal academic format would solve this problem.
These are all excellent suggestions imo. On this point it'd imo be detrimental to make it binding to totally lock down modules years in advance as there are valid reasons for changes, staff joining and retiring, developments in the field occuring etc. Currently though you may well just get a list of whimsical module names which isn't enough.
Exprgenced members frequently stress to applicants the importance of looking at the course structure, assessment method, assessment timing, however it'd be easier to compare confusing mobile phone tariffs atm.
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jelly1000
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1) Accomodation deposits to guarentee your room in halls- these can be as high as £550 (Birmingham) and frequently its not made clear that this needs to be paid before student finance comes in. Very few prospective students have £550 to spare and whilst some universities are sympathetic and will delay payment others seem to have a 'tough luck' attitude if you can't afford to pay.

2) When exams are. I started at UEA not knowing that they didn't have January exams until just before Christmas! Would have been nice to know earlier.

3) To add to whats already been said about modules, I don't understand why they can't publish module guides on their websites like the ones they give to current students, obviously I can't speak for all unis but at UEA all of them are already on the computer system for current students to see. Yes modules do change sometimes but not all at once so at least some would still be the same when the student started.

4) Inform and educate schools about required subjects and debunk myths that the university is too 'posh' for state school pupils, encourage schools to put pupils forward e.c.t then the schools can pass this onto kids. I think one of the biggest problems with university admisison is lack of correct advice by schools.
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Joinedup
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So no news on the possible fee reduction for Science students I asked about - this idea is presumed to be a Willets brainchild

http://exquisitelife.researchresearc...onservati.html

and was mentioned by Theresa May in her victory 2015 speech.

http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2013/...peech-in-full/
Second, and building on this work, government should identify the training and skills capabilities we need, and tailor its policies accordingly. It could encourage the establishment of more technical schools. It could work with schools and business to get more young people studying science, technology, engineering and maths. It could fund deep discounts in tuition fees for students who want to study degrees like engineering, where we have a shortage of skilled workers. This kind of planning already takes place in the immigration system, with a shortage occupation list in key sectors, so I don’t see why we shouldn’t apply the same logic to our own workforce.
why didn't my question make the cut but the softball about working for thatcher did?
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catoswyn
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The drop in part time and mature applicants is not as simple as a response to a rise in fees. In fact part time applicants are for the first time able to borrow money for the fees.

I believe, from anecdotal evidence, that a major factor affecting this group is the new 'equivalent qualification' rule which prevents people who have studied at a certain level previously from obtaining home rate for study from universities and accessing loans at all. Someone who may have studied for a degree over quarter of a century ago and now needs to update their skills/change direction/ prove recent study/ return to the workforce ie. after a period of long unemployment or maybe raising children are effectively blocked from doing so. This is very short sighted given the ever longer working life of individuals and the need for a flexible and changing work force.

I do understand the notion that limited funds must be targeted at key groups such as the young. However I believe that it would pay dividends in the end to keep supporting 'returning students'. Maybe this could be done on the basis of a certain amount of time elapsing between periods of equivalent study ie 20 years or the assessment of special circumstances such as disability requiring a career change and hence new training.
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