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Higher Ideas — HE update 2018

Higher IdeasNow that A-level results day is behind us and it's back to school and college, we've updated Higher Ideas for the 2018-19 edition.

As ever, our work has included updating the factsheets and adding some new ones. That means there are now 100 factsheets in Higher Ideas, covering all sorts of topics relating to Higher Education. Here are some of the highlights of what is going on at the moment, with Higher Ideas factsheet references where applicable.

Tuition fees remain a complicated mix of where you come from, where you study, and what degree course you do. For the full story, see the tuition fees factsheet in the paying for your degree course section of the factsheets in Higher Ideas. The headlines are that English and Scottish tuition fees stay the same for 2019 entry, and we're still waiting on announcements for Wales and Northern Ireland. The student loan repayment threshold is £25k, with graduates making loan repayments at a rate of 9% of income over that.

TrianglesVarious surveys show that student debt continues to be a worry for many would-be students, especially those from poorer homes. We continue to favour thinking of it more as a graduate tax than a loan. Unlike regular loans, the amount you pay each month is related to what you earn, not what you've borrowed. And below the earnings threshold of £25k, you pay nothing. This is covered in the paying for your degree course section of the factsheets, in the student loans document. Government analysis of the figures this year concludes that only about 30% this year's cohort of undergraduates will end up repaying their student loan in full before the 30-year write-off period is up. The Institute for Fiscal Studies puts the figure at 17%.

For students doing medicine or dentistry in England, the NHS Bursary Scheme continues to provide help with tuition fees in the later part of the course. Also in England there are supposed to be over 1,000 new degree apprenticeships in health-related careers, bringing together study and work. With a degree apprenticeship, you get paid while you work and while you learn, and your employer pays your tuition fees. Degree apprenticeships are covered in a factsheet in the types of degree course section. And the specific issues of degree apprenticeships in nursing come up in the paying for health-related courses factsheet within the paying for your degree course section. Take-up for nursing degree apprenticeships so far has been surprisingly low. We think it likely that this is due in part to students not knowing about them, and employers still being in the process of gearing up for offering them.

Students who choose to study on certain health-related degree courses in Wales can still get their course for 'free'. Your tuition fees are paid for you, so long as you undertake to work for the NHS in Wales for at least two years after graduation. This is covered in the paying for health-related courses factsheet.

This year has seen the further roll-out of the grading of GCSEs by numbers instead of letters. One complication this adds is when universities require applicants to have a "GCSE pass" in English and mathematics. What number grade counts as a pass? Trawling through government information about the new grading system you can find a GCSE grade four described as a 'standard pass' and a five as a ‘strong pass'. For the purposes of demonstrating basic literacy and numeracy for your university application, it seems that most universities are setting the bar at grade four, but we have seen a few asking for grade five.

TrianglesVarious courses require some sort of criminal records check as part of the application process. This is commonly the case in courses like nursing and teaching, with placements where you will be in contact with children and vulnerable adults. It's a complicated area as to what is disclosed, what counts as 'spent', and what gets 'filtered' in the reports compiled by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). We've added a new criminal record checks factsheet in the applying for your degree course section, explaining what’s involved.

The rise in the number of unconditional offers given to UCAS applicants continues. This year nearly a quarter of all applicants (23%) got one or more unconditional offers. We see unconditional offers as a product of competition amongst universities for a smaller number of 18 year olds — a demographic trend that will continue to 2021. Unconditional offers need to be handled with care. We've offered students some of our thoughts and tips on this in the university offers factsheet in the applying for your degree course section of the factsheets.

Meanwhile competition for places at the most-selective universities remains strong. For many would-be students this means thinking about a place at a Russell Group university. This year we've added a Russell Group factsheet in the where to study for your degree section. The factsheet explains what it means to include a Russell Group university amongst your applications. The Russell Group's Advancing Access website is worth a visit. It includes links to the programmes aimed at widening participation from students who might not be thinking about attending a Russell Group university. Many of the universities offer taster courses, summer camps, sixth-form support schemes, and buddy schemes where you are paired with an existing student.


Also in the where to study for your degree section, we've revisited the factsheet about studying abroad for some of your degree course with the Erasmus+ scheme. The looming elephant in the room for this one is 29 March next year and Brexit — deal or no deal. We'd love to be able to say that student eligibility and experience on the scheme will continue unchanged. With various non-EU countries in the scheme already, including Macedonia, Norway, and Turkey, we're hopeful. But with apparently nothing decided until everything is decided, we can't be sure. We have updated the Erasmus+ factsheet with the recent announcement that even if it's "no deal", the Government’s "underwrite guarantee" will cover the payment of awards to UK applicants for all successful Erasmus+ bids submitted before the UK exits the EU.

For the student who wants to wait and see if things settle down a bit, there's always the possibility of a gap year. That's covered in the gap years factsheet, new this year, in the choices at 18+ section. The factsheet includes tips on how to ensure your gap year is a beneficial learning experience and not an expensive waste of time.

There's lots more that's new and updated in Higher Ideas, including a new social media factsheet. We hope that you and your students will continue to make good use of Higher Ideas and find it helpful in making smart choices in the sixth-form and for Higher Education.

We welcome all comments, questions, and criticisms, and love hearing your stories of how you are putting Higher Ideas to work.

Last updated 13 September, 2018