October News Digest: social mobility stagnates at top unis, student finances, funding vocational education and more

Nov 2, 2023 | Home Featured, News, Sector & policy

ISE’s joint CEO Stephen Isherwood delves into the latest industry reports.

Three major industry reports made the news this month. HEPI and Unipol survey findings showed students spend almost all of their maintenance loans on rent.

The Sutton Trust published research on admission rates that showed students from disadvantaged backgrounds are no more likely to get into a prestigious university than 10 years ago.

The Resolution Foundation published a report that argued for a new demand-led approach to vocational education.

Students struggle to pay their rent

The cost-of-living crisis has had a significant impact on students in particular. HE think tank HEPI and student housing charity Unipol, studied the rental market in 10 regional cities to understand how supply and demand in the property market is affecting students’ finances.

The authors found that when the average maintenance load is compared to average rents, students are left with £24 in their pockets. Students who receive the maximum maintenance loan are likely to find only three-quarters of their rental costs are covered.

High interest rates are increasing building and funding costs for developers which is reducing the supply of new accommodation onto the market. And when new buildings are opened, rents are inflated due to higher construction and running costs. The lack of supply also increased demand for existing accommodation, which also puts upward pressure on rents.

Among the recommendations included the report, the authors called for a reform of the student maintenance system and planning reform that increased the supply of new buildings.

The press focused on student’s lack of money and which cities are the least affordable to live in. Bristol has the highest average student rent costs, reported the Evening Standard. University students have 50p per week to live on, reported the Guardian.

Social mobility isn’t improving in highly selective universities

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are no more likely to go to a top university than 10 years ago, reported the Sutton Trust. The findings are contained in their report 25 Years of University Access.

Whilst many more students from traditionally under-represented groups are now going to university in line with the overall increase in numbers, the report found that large gaps in access remain at the most prestigious institutions. Despite some progress in the last 10 years, levels of access for students from lower POLAR areas of deprivation into Russell Group universities are lower than in 1997.

The Sutton Trust also reported that the gender gap is increasing: more women than men go to university with just over half of women applying to HE, but only 38% of men. And while the participation rates for Black students have increased, this is less pronounced at Russell Group institutions. The report authors argue that because of demographic shifts and impacts of the pandemic, it will be more challenging to improve access to university from disadvantaged groups.

Later in the month UCAS published their latest data release on university applications. Perhaps the Sutton Trust report prompted UCAS to highlight that record numbers of 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds are applying to the most selective universities.

In the FT, reporting highlighted that the proportion of UK school leavers going to university has risen by 60 per cent since 1997, those that are disadvantaged are still under-represented at prestigious institutions, event though they get high A-level grades.

Reform vocational education funding

Britain generally does well in educating enough young people to graduate level, but still fails to train enough of those that don’t, argues a new report from the Resolution Foundation and the LSE. 30% of 18-year-olds aren’t in education or training, which is a rate significantly higher than in our major competitor countries.

Because the government caps levels of funding for further education, places are effectively capped in a way that A-level or university places aren’t. Apprentice rates are still lower than in other countries and the report agues that government should fund enough places for young people who want to start one.

Because of our success at graduate level and failure for non-graduates, the UK has an ‘almost bipolar’ distribution of education. Numeracy and literacy rates of 24-year-olds are much worse than in France or Germany.

One of the report authors, LSE professor Richard Layard, wrote a think piece in the FT articulating the report’s key point, that education for the ‘other 50%’ who don’t go to university, needs to be reformed in line with principles contained in the Robbins report, published 60 years ago.

Other early career news that made the headlines

• Multiverse, the start-up founded by Euan Blair, has shifted focus from school-leaver recruitment onto apprenticeships to upskilling existing employees, reported the Daily Telegraph.
• University of Bolton to change its name to University of Greater Manchester in order to boost recognition, reported the Guardian.
• Despite economic pressures, 80% of finance sector recruiters think there is a shortage of qualified candidates who want to work in the sector, reported City AM.
• England’s new ‘free speech tsar’ outlined his plans and said his job is not to fight political culture wars, reported the Guardian.
• The most notable announcement of the political conference season was Rishi Sunak’s plan to replace A-levels and T-levels with an Advanced British Standard, reported the Daily Telegraph.
• Poorer students in London and the South-east are more likely to choose universities closer to home, reported the Evening Standard.
• After the supreme court’s ruling to strike down affirmative action US universities are now under pressure to end preferential treatment of alumni’s children, reported the FT.

You can catch up with more industry news in the September News Digest

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