According to the BBC (26 July 2018), a recent report by UCAS, has confirmed that the awarding of unconditional university places to students has increased by a factor of nearly 23 from 2013 to 2018 (2,985 to 67,915) (see graph).
While this increase might suggest that there has been an improvement in the educational opportunities for high school leavers, the UK government has suggested it simply represents a university policy aimed at increasing student numbers, thus being financially driven, and the TUC has argued that it encourages students not to bother studying to achieve the standards normally required for university admission.
What does this really mean for universities?
As noted previously, one of the benefits of this change for universities is that it improves their revenues, and therefore the capital the need to improve facilities and, of course, increase the salaries paid to key stakeholder groups such as senior management and tutors. Thus, one could say that in adopting this ‘unconditional’ policy the university aims are to improve its positioning within the national/world rankings and their financial strengths
As noted, the TUC suggests that this change is leading to lower skills and knowledge among the intake of new students. We argue that this raises three important issues. The first is that tutors therefore need to extend their lesson plan and content to take account that the university learning process has to start from an earlier/lower level of learning. This means that those who have studied hard to meet university entry criteria are disadvantaged in that, effectively, they may have to ‘tread water’ while those without catch up. The second problem is that, as a result of the potential increased tutor workload, students may not be given sufficient time to be able to discuss any issues or concerns they may about their work, which may adversely affect their individual education progression. Finally, one could also argue that this approach may also limit limiting the opportunities for students from disadvantaged backgrounds to secure a university place, as the availability of such places is being limited by the current approach, even if they have worked hard.
What should be done?
In our view, educational standards need to be maintained if our universities are to improve the quality of the students they prepare for their future careers. In this respect, therefore, it is important to achieve an appropriate balance between the financial objectives of the university and their achievement of the institutions main aim, which is to improve higher learning outcomes.