The impact of the changes to higher education on A level student decisions

A level results were published yesterday with the inevitable hyperbole in the serious and popular press alike. Of course, for students directly affected their concern is to make the grades for the university and/or course of choice.

The removal of the university student recruitment cap

According to an article in the London Evening Standard, students getting a place at the university of their choice is becoming easier to achieve. The cap on student recruitment has been removed, which means that universities can in theory recruit as many students as they wish to fill lecture theatres.

For Russell Group universities, and others, this signals an opportunity, since they can, if they so choose, make offers to weaker candidates in order to boost numbers. There is some evidence that this is occurring, marked by an increase in students being enticed by unconditional offers, some received even before A level results were released.

The increasing marketisation of higher education

The latest figures, in this other London Evening Standard article, suggest that university acceptances have increased by approximately four per cent to 409,000, but what is less clear is how those numbers are distributed between institutions.

The London Evening Standard reported that the effective marketisation of higher education might adversely affect the London ex-Poly universities as students decide to ‘trade up’ to a regional Russell Group University and take advantage of cheaper living conditions outside of the capital.

Alternative routes to avoid heavy student debt

Wherever students choose to study, however, gaining a place at university has become a very significant financial consideration. With the scrapping of maintenance grants and the ever increasing cost of living, going to university is not always an option.

Alternative routes then become very attractive, particularly if they lead into a professional career and enable students to earn while they learn. These include the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives’ (CILEx) qualifications, offering flexible levels, from the Level 3 Certificate to the full Chartered Legal Executive Fellowship, which can be tailored to both employer and employee needs. And at a fraction of the cost of traditional degrees.

Apprenticeships: getting paid to learn

A further option for school leavers with good A level grades is taking up an apprenticeship in sectors such as law and accountancy. CILEx Law School, the training arm of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, has experienced a big upsurge in interest in legal apprenticeships from those that would normally enrol on a degree course.

The benefits are obvious: as with many CILEx students, apprentices undertake their studies while already employed. This is a serious advantage over those increasing numbers of students graduating without any workplace experience. Receiving an income in the process also reduces the risk of starting out with insurmountable student debt.

Perhaps it is too early to know how the changes in higher education will shake out, but it is highly likely that we will see degree courses being challenged by alternative courses, including apprenticeships, as a genuine alternative in the future.