September News Digest: A-levels reform, engineering loses out to tech and more

Sep 29, 2023 | Home Featured, News, Sector & policy

A challenging start to the autumn term, new university rankings, engineering firms lose talent to tech, plans to reform A-levels – ISE’s Joint CEO Stephen Isherwood shares what’s caught his eye in the news this month.


Students turn to food banks

As the cost-of-living crisis continues, more than one in four universities operates a food bank for students hit by the cost-of-living crisis, says a new report by HEPI.

Finding somewhere to live is also a challenge as students will face an accommodation crisis in many cities this autumn, says student housing charity, reported in The Independent.

Perhaps it is no surprise then that the number of students experiencing mental health issues has more than doubled over the last six years, reported the Independent. To help tackle student loneliness, the government launched a campaign and published research that indicates over 90% of students experience loneliness

Financial pressures also impact young people as they enter work. Many face being worse off than their parents said the Chair of the Social Mobility Commission in the FT as the commission published its annual report. Over 800,000 graduates now have student loans totalling between £50,000 and £100,000, reported I news.

Schools in a concrete crisis

The government forced over 100 schools to fully or partially close due to faulty concrete, just as the autumn term was about to start, reported the BBC. The challenge facing heads: feeding hungry kids, fixing leaky roofs, helping year-11s afford prom – was exposed as the FT covers a year in the life of an Oldham school.

The government also announced that it is considering the creation of a British Baccalaureate. Rishi Sunak is considering abolishing A-levels and wants students to study maths to 18, reported the BBC. Rishi should be pleased then that a state school that specialises in maths topped the A-level results table. The majority (92%) of students achieved an A* or A, reported the Guardian.

University strikes continue despite an end to the marking boycott

As the new academic year starts, a large number of staff at universities continued their strike action during fresher’s week, reported the Evening Standard. In Scotland, the education minister told universities to clear the backlog caused by the marking boycott, reported the Evening Standard.

The Office for Students is the regulator that oversees universities, but it isn’t meeting the needs of students, isn’t trusted by universities and isn’t independent of government, said peers as the House of Lords published its report on the regulator’s performance.

In more positive news for the sector, the government announced that the UK is to re-join the EU Horizon research programme, reported the Independent. Brexit forced the UK out of the programme which funds 95.5billion euros worth of research and innovation.

Rankings published

This is the time of year when many publishers release their university guides and rankings. St Andrews University beat Oxford and Cambridge to the number one slot in the Sunday Times university rankings, reported the BBC.

And in the new QS European university league table, UK universities dominate with seven in the top ten, three of them London institutions.

The rankings are intended to guide students and parents about to navigate the UCAS application process. This year, the number of 18-year-olds accepted onto a university course dropped slightly, but was still well above pre-pandemic levels, reported UCAS.

Tech sector targets engineering students

Engineering students, particularly in the UK, are courted by employers from a range of sectors. Finance and consulting employers have often targeted engineers, but it’s the tech sector that engineering firms are losing out to in the competition for talent, reported The Guardian.

When students start work in whatever sector, their biggest concerns on starting a new job are not fitting in with the team and not knowing what they’re doing, said a new study by the Prince’s Trust reported in the Independent.

In overseas news

The Chinese government has stopped publishing the youth unemployment rate as the economy struggles, reported the Guardian. Statistics released earlier in the year showed that youth unemployment was over 20%.

In America, students are turning away from careers in accounting. A number of US states want to increase the popularity of the profession by reducing the number of years study required to qualify, reported the FT.

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

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