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Why do universities make unconditional offers?

1 in 3 sixth formers now receive at least one unconditional offer from a university. 117 000 students received a university offer with at least one unconditional element last year, compared to just 3000 five years earlier. (Guardian article, Jan 31st 2018).

And according to the latest UCAS figures, there are 20 universities which are fuelling the trend. Nottingham Trent is at the top of the list – 40% of its offers last year were unconditional.

unconditional offers.png

Russel Group universities are much less likely to make unconditional offers, although of these Birmingham has an 11% unconditional rate.

Of particular concern to UCAS is the rise of so called ‘conditional unconditional offers’ which is where universities make an unconditional offer to a student so long as they make that university their first choice.

This actually continues a trend I blogged about last year. It seems the trend is intensifying!

Why the increase in unconditional offers?

There are lots of possible reasons:

At root we have a competitive, free-market higher education system: universities have to compete for students and making unconditional offers is one way universities can make themselves more appealing (I mean, who wants to actually have pass exams to get in?!)

It could also be due to the increasing amount of apprenticeships looking more appealing than university. There are hundreds of thousands of these after all and surely a 1-2 year apprenticeship where you actually paid is going to be more appealing than a 3 year degree and £30K of debt at the end?

Finally, it’s worth noting that unconditional offers are more likely to be handed out by the lower end universities, most of the Russel Group universities make very few unconditional offers, and students generally have to pass their exams to get in.

Problems with unconditional offers…

As I see it, there are three main problems…

Firstly, these may not be in the students’ best interest. They may reduce stress for you in your exam year, but they may lead you into a three year degree that has little value at the end of it. Worse, an unconditional offer may attract you to doing the wrong degree and saddle you with £9K of debt after one year with nothing to show for it.

Secondly – it’s likely to have a detrimental affect on school and college results that the more unconditional offers their students get then the worse the A level results are going to be – why work when you’re going to get in anyway?

Thirdly, it doesn’t seem fair on those students who get standard offers….. at least not in the final exam year when they’re under stress. In the long run, these students may be better off with better A-levels and having got into better universities!

links to A-level sociology 

This material should be useful in criticising New Right views of education.

Could this be a topic for a ‘horrible’ methods in context question: look at the strengths and limitations of ‘A method’ for researching the increase in unconditional university offers’ – it’s horrible, but VERY relevant to the majority of sociology students.

Final thoughts 

I say either ban unconditional offers absolutely, or ration them to a handful per institution, which have to be ‘sponsored’ by the pastoral team, and backed up with hard evidence that there is a need for them (due to severe deprivation, abuse, emotional issues), in the name of equality of educational opportunity.

Also, it’s 2019 now, time for 18 year olds to apply to uni AFTER they get their A-levels results in mid-August?

Sources 

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Oxford and Cambridge still seem to be biased towards the middle classes

Eight leading private schools send more pupils to Oxford and Cambridge than three-quarters of all state secondary schools.

These eight schools include some of the most expensive fee-paying independent schools in the country, including Westminster and Eton.

  • The eight schools sent 1, 310 pupils to Oxbridge fro 2015 to 2017,
  • Compared to 2,894 state schools which sent just 1, 220 pupils.

Now you might think this is simply due to the better standard of candidates in private schools leading to more applications to Oxford and Cambridge, however the statics below suggest Oxford and Cambridge and Russel Group universities bias their acceptances in favour of Independent schools and selective (grammar) schools and against comprehensives and the post-compulsory sector…..

private schools oxdridge.png

private schools oxford cambridge.pngThe statistics above show that…

  • Only 34% of  applications to Oxbridge are made from private schools, but 42% of offers are made to privately schooled pupils
  • 32% of applications to Oxbridge are made from comprehensive schools, but only 25% of offers are made to comprehensively schooled children.

This means you are significantly more likely to get an offer if you apply from a private school compared to a comprehensive school. A similar ‘offer bias’ is found for Russel Group universities.

Why might this be the case?

It could be that the standards of applications are better from Independent Schools (and selective schools), in fact this is quite likely given that such institutions are university factories, unlike comprehensive.

However, it might also just be pure class-bias, especially with the case of Oxbridge, where interviews and old-school tie connections might be significant enough to make the difference, given the relatively small numbers of applicants.

Possibly the best overall theory which explains this is ‘cultural capital‘ theory?

Sources/ Find out More

The Sutton Trust: Access to Advantage (full report)

Web link/ summary: https://www.suttontrust.com/newsarchive/oxbridge-over-recruits-from-eight-schools/

 

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What are the most valuable degrees?

The most valuable degree you can do is economics, and the least valuable is health and social care. 

At least according to the latest research by the IFS on the impact of Higher Education on future earnings

The table below compares earnings at age 29 of female graduates compared to non graduates for different subject areas.

highest earning degree subjects.pngAs you can see, female economics graduates earn 150% more than non graduates, with medicine not far behind and most of the rest of the STEM subject graduates earning 100% more. 

Meanwhile at the other end of the scale social care and create arts degree graduates only earn about 20-25% more than non-graduates, making these degrees a lot less valuable in terms of purely financial returns. 

The significance of these statistics 

Fair enough I guess that medicine yields a decent return, I don’t think there’s much scope to criticise that, and given the innovation within science and engineering, the fact that these degrees result in 100% higher earnings at age 29 isn’t surprising either. 

HOWEVER, I have a problem with economics graduates earning so much more. It’s very unlikely that these people are earning so much money because of the social good they are doing. It’s probably more likely that they’re sucking money upwards to the already rich working for corporations and hedge funds, or doing crude econometric (read ‘guess work’) analysis for large institutions like the World Bank. They’re reward is probably making the rich richer, or at least keeping them rich. 

Meanwhile down at the bottom, I’m not so sure whether the low return on the caring degrees shows how little we value this qualitative side of life, rather than the fact that degrees in such subjects maybe can’t teach you that much?!? I mean with caring, how much is there that you can’t learn on the job, honestly, or just learn at level 3. 

Don’t get me wrong though, I think caring professions are very much underpaid. 

As to creative arts… I’m not sure whether these are undervalued, difficult for me to say with any level of objectivity, although if these stats are anything to go by, it shows us that ‘society’ doesn’t value art very highly! 

NB – The figures for men are a little different, check out the above study if yer interested! 

 

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The effect of private schools on future income

Men who went to a private school* go on to earn 78% more at age 29 than men who come from the lowest ‘social class’ quintile. 

Women who went to a private school* go on to earn 100% more at age 29 than women from the lowest ‘social class’ quintile.

private schools income.png

By age 29, men who had been to a private school earn on average £41 000 per annum, compared to only £23 000 per annum for those from the lowest SES background. 

The respective figures for women are £36 000 and £18000. 

Those who attended private school even earn considerably more on average than those from the top SES quintile. 

This is from the latest IFS study on the impact of Higher Education on future earnings

The significance of these statistics 

This is YET MORE evidence of how private schools seem to play a crucial role in the reproduction of class inequality. The chain seems to be:

  • Go to a private school and get hot-housed
  • Get into a Russel Group university
  • Get a better paid job. 

It also shows that we need to keep researching exactly how private schools confer advantages on children from rich backgrounds and on just exactly how material and cultural capital combine to get these kids better jobs as adults. 

You might like to read this post for more detailed info

Limitations with these statistics 

The above stats show all earners, including those who failed their GCSEs, so we’re not really comparing like with like when we compare highest and lowest SES categories, because so many people from the lowest SES category fail to get 5 A*-C grades at GCSE, which means they are much less likely to go to HE, which has a significant negative impact on their earnings at age 29.

With these stats we are going back to a cohort which sat their GCSEs over 10 years ago, so they are already dated, although in fairness, this is unavoidable with a longitudinal analysis such as this. 

*Given that only 7% of UK children go to private school, and that most have to pay fees, attendance at private school strongly suggests that this is the top tenth decile of students by ‘social class’ background, so the top half of the top fifth. 

 

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How much more will I earn if I do a degree?

At age 29 male graduates earn £13K more per year than those with 5*-Cs without a degree while women earn £10K per annum more.

Look at another way, this means that a degree should pay for itself after just four years if you’re a woman, and three years if your a man…

I calculated these figures based on research into the impact of degrees on future earnings at the age of 29 conducted by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

If you look at the wages earned by HE graduates compared to people who got 5 A*-Cs at age 29, then female HE graduates earn £10K more per year before tax, while men earn £13K more per year, again after tax.

If we reduce this difference a little to take account of taxation, then we get the figures above: a degree pays back in earnings after just 3 years for men and 4 years for women, at least once they reach the age of 29.

All of this assumes tuition fess are £9K a year for 3 years, and doesn’t take into account the opportunity cost of HE students not having earned anywhere near as much for 3 years while studying compared to non HE students.

Having said that, I think it’s fair enough to take a long term view, and look at things 6-7 years or so after graduating… a degree is a long term investment after all.

My tax calculations are also approximate.

NB – the above figures are averages, and there are considerable variations on this depending on the subject you choose to study, and other factors such as your class background. For more info on the study, you might also like this post!

 

 

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Is it worth doing a degree? (2018 update)

U.K. universities typically charge £9250 year for most Higher Education degree courses, which means a total cost of £27 750 for a standard, three year degree. But is it worth it?

This post summarises the findings of a recent quantitative study conduct by the Department for Education and the Institute for Fiscal studies which examines the impact of having a degree on early career salaries (up until 29 years old), taking into account a whole range of background factors such as prior attainment at GCSE, social class background, and gender as well as the type of university and subject studied.

This is necessarily a brief summary, reporting only some of the findings, but you can read the full report here.

What is the impact of going to university on future earnings?

Overall, at age 29 the average woman who attended HE earns > 50% more than the average woman (with five A*-C GCSEs) who did not. 

HE compared non HE earnings women.png

For men the gap is 25%, which is still significant.

Class background and prior attainment still explain more than HALF the difference

HOWEVER, a lot of the above difference in future earnings is explained by differences prior to university – and once we take into account higher prior attainment and class background,

earnings social class.png

There’s actually quite a difference here between men and women – female graduates earn 28% more than non-graduates, while male graduates earn only 8% more. So class background seems to affect men more than women?!? It sees that factors such as cultural capital may still matter! 

Russel Group graduates do a lot better!

The type of institution has a large affect on future salary gains – those attending Russel Group universities can look forward to much higher salaries compared to those attending post 1992 institutions.

graduate earnings by university.png

Overall, significant salary gains are enjoyed by 85% of students (99% of women, 67% of men)

Subject studied matters!

Future incomes vary greatly by subject studied. Men studying creative arts, English or philosophy actually end up with lower earnings on average at age 29 than those who did not go to university. However, studying medicine or economics increases male earnings by more than 20%.

earnings GCSEs men.png

For women, there are no subjects that have negative returns, and studying economics/ medicine increases their earnings age 29 by around 60%.

earnings GCSEs women.png

Final thoughts

Looked at from a purely financial perspective, in 2018 it still makes financial sense for most people to do a degree, but some gain more out their degrees than others.

But there are some quite complex correlations between future earnings, subject studied, gender, and so on, and the final two graphics above do an excellent job of showing how these variables interact.

Based purely on the stats, if you’re a lad with ‘low GCSE’ attainment going to a bottom-end university, it’s probably not worth you doing a degree.

For most other graduates, earning 20% more, that’s £6K extra on a £30K salary, roughly, so after tax, your degree would have more or less paid for itself by your late 20s, early 30s. Sooner, if you’re doing economics or medicine!

Having said that, there are other benefits to going to university besides widening your job prospects and improving your future salary – such as the knowledge, the friends and the lolz, and of course these might well be priceless.

And Very Finally a word of the advice for the uncertain….

If you’re not sure whether you should do a degree or not, or if you’re uncertain about what subject you should do, don’t let your parents or your college pressurise you into applying to university NOW. You can always apply with a ‘gap year’, or just not apply and apply next year or the year after… starting on the wrong course and dropping out is a very expensive (£9.25K) mistake to make, and you’ll probably gain little from it other than stress.

So if you’re uncertain, just chilax, even if the people around you are going mental at you about applying. I took a year out after my A-levels, and had a great time being unemployed and reading philosophy before applying for my degree in American Studies and Anthropology – two great subjects I never would have applied for while at school.

This post was written for educational purposes. And the above advice does not actually constitute advice, ask a so called professional if yer uncertain about yer future. 

Sources 

(1) https://www.gov.uk/student-finance/new-fulltime-students

(2) All images from https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/759278/The_impact_of_undergraduate_degrees_on_early-career_earnings.pdf

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What is the significance of the ‘increase’ in student suicides?

There has been an increase in the suicide rate among Higher Education students, from 3.8 per 100, 000 in 2006/07 to 4.7 suicides per 100, 000 in 2016/17, according to new data released this week by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

student suicides.png
Google headlines for ‘student suicide’ search, June 26th 2018

NB this isn’t only the latest data, it is also ‘new’ in the sense that this is the first time that the ONS has published data specifically focussing on ‘higher education student’ suicides, so in this sense I guess it is inherently news worthy, and the release of the data on the 25/06 certainly caused quite a stir in the mainstream news and talk shows following the release, with the main focus seeming to be on ‘what we should do about the problem of increasing student suicides’, and the fact that this is ‘new data’.

However, to my mind, while I appreciate the fact that there is an underlying increase in students reporting mental health issues that seems to correlate with the increase in suicide, I also believe there’s reason to be sceptical about the usefulness of the above data, especially since the ONS itself refers to these stats as ‘experimental statistics’.

Below, I summarise what the ONS data tells us about HE student suicides, and then contrast two sociological approaches to interpreting this data: the first being a broadly ‘structuralist’ perspective which accepts that the data is basically valid and asks ‘why are there more student suicides?’ (which was pretty much the narrative in the mainstream news); and a second, broadly Interpretivist approach which questions the validity of this data, and asks whether or not all of this might be something of a moral panic?

What does the data tell us?

Firstly, there has been an increase in the suicide rate among higher education students if we compare the data from 2006/07 to 206/17

student suicide rate 2017.png

However, although the data appears to have stabilized in the the last three years, the ONS reminds us that these rates are based on such low numbers (95 suicides in 2016/17) that it’s hard to draw any statistical significance from these figures.

Secondly, male students are approximately twice as likely to commit suicide than female students

male female student suicide rates england.png

Between the years of 2001 and 2017, a total 1,330 students died from suicide, of which 878 (66%) were male and 452 (34%) were female.

Thirdly, older students are more likely to kill themselves than younger students

student suicide rate age.png

This actually surprised me a little (note to self about ‘stereotypes’ of suicidal students): higher education students aged 30 or over are twice as likely to commit suicide compared to students aged 20 and under.

Some limitations of the above data

I recommend checking out the publication (link above and below at the end) by the ONS, they mention several limitations with this data: for example, the low overall numbers make it hard to draw any conclusions about the suicide rate with any degree of confidence (statistical significance); and the year on year on year data might not be accurate given delays in recording a death as a suicide, due to inquests taking a long time in some instances (e.g. a suicide which happened in 2016 might appear as a recorded suicide in 2017).

What are the underlying ’causes’ of the ‘increase’ in student suicides?

The mainstream media narrative pretty much took the increase in student suicides at face value, and offered up some of the following possible reasons to explain the increase:

  1. The suicide stats are the ‘extreme ‘tip’ of something of a ‘mental health crisis’ in universities – higher number of students are making use of mental health services, which are under-resourced: universities aren’t giving enough support to vulnerable students who are suicidal.
  2. The increase in mental health problems/ suicide could be due to the fact that university life has become more stressful: there’s more pressure to succeed and get at least a 2.1, and students no longer go to university to have ‘three years off’ (like I did ;)).
  3. Related to the above, mental health problems could be related to the ‘double adjustment’ (my invention that!) students have to go through: they have to adjust not only to the fact that university life isn’t as much fun as its been made out to be (at yer glossy open day), and they have to adjust to the fact that they are just not ‘that clever’ (the later probably applies more to hot-housed privately schooled students, and to those students who are more likely to have had their predicted grades inflated).

A broadly Interpretivist approach to understanding these stats… 

Interpretivists would be much more likely to question the validity of these stats, and thus the validity of the view that there is an increase in higher education student suicides, and the opinion that this is something which we should be concerned about.

There are certainly sufficient grounds to be sceptical about these stats:

  • If you were to compare the three year average for 2002/03 to 2004/05 with the three year average for 2014/15 to 20016/17 the ‘increase’ is much less significant.
  • The ONS itself says you cannot draw any significant conclusions from the small numbers used to derive these stats. And again, they even explicitly refer to them as ‘experimental stats’!
  • The overall number of student suicides is half that of the suicide rate in the general population: surely the headlines should be: ‘”great news, going to university helps lower suicide risk”?

There might also be an argument to made that this is something of a moral panic: it seems to me that the media perpetuate the idea that the typical suicidal student is a 19 year old female, when actually this is atypical – a 30+ year old male student is about 4 times more likely to kill himself.

I also think ‘class’ might come into this: Bristol University (A Russel Group, and thus a very middle class  university) has been in the news recently due to its high suicide rates:

bristol university suicides.png

So, might this uncritical news reporting just really be about stoking a moral panic not so much about the ‘increase’ in higher education student suicides (of which there appears to be no significant evidence), but really about the increase in suicide among our ‘precious’ middle class male students? 

Sources 

 

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Is University overrated?

According to in the Economist, we are engaged in a pointless academic arms race, with more and more students going to university, while the benefits to them, and to wider society become harder to concern. Degrees are now so common place, that they don’t really mean very much, but employers still use them as a means of screening applicants, and many fields that didn’t used to require a degree, now do (take recruitment as an example).

There is also a problem that many students who start degree courses do not complete their studies… across the developed world, fully 30% of students who start a degree drop out without graduating, a problem which has a significant financial cost when each year of study costs £10K.

Maybe students would be better off spending their money to boost their ‘micro-credentials’ by doing short courses which mean more to employers… IT courses for example?

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Why are Oxford and Cambridge Still Bastions of Privilege?

A recent freedom of information request from David Lammy MP led to him commenting that Oxford and Cambridge operate a form of ‘social apartheid‘. Two of the most stark statistics are below:

  • More than 80% of offers go to the top two social class, the children of barristers, doctors and CEOS, many of whom are privately educated and from the South East.
  • In 2015, one in five colleges at Cambridge and one in five at Oxford failed to admit a single black A-level student.

Writing in The Independent, Tom Rasmussen suggested that this was because people who work in admissions in Oxford and Cambridge are disproportionately from privileged white backgrounds, and so fail to grasp the challenges that people from socially disadvantaged backgrounds face.

Labelling at Cambridge

A second possible reason, according to The Observer, is that the independent schools themselves are institutions of white privilege.

Cambridge and Oxford respond to the above by saying that they’re not institutionally racist, pointing out that they recruit plenty of Indian, Pakistani and Chinese A-level students, and that the simple truth of the matter is that only a few hundred black Britons achieve the required 3 As at A-level.

Discussion Question

Given the above – do you think that Oxford and Cambridge should practice ‘positive discrimination’ and recruit more black A-level students?

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The Myth of the American Dream

Part of the traditional American Dream is that anyone, even children from low income families, can work their way through college, get a degree and be upwardly mobile.

However, some recent research suggests that this is no longer the case – a full 50% of American university students from disadvantaged backgrounds drop out of college, and the main reason is because financial constraints means they cannot afford to pay the bills.

Sara Goldrick-Rab conducted a longitudinal study of 3,000 disadvantaged young adults attending various universities in the state of Wisconsin, USA (commenced in 2008), and some of her main findings include:

  • 50% of students from low-income households drop out of college and thus end up with college degree.
  • The experience of university is, for many poor students, quite grim – 24% of students in her study had problems with basic food security, and 13% were homeless.
  • They controlled for the amount of effort students put into their studies – and found that students did not drop out because of lack of effort, but the main reason was literally not being able to pay the bills.
  • Less than 20% of the sample managed to complete a degree within five years.

Goldrick-Rab also argues that there are clear ‘structural’ reasons why poor students cannot afford college:

  • Financial assistance (in the form of the Pell grant) is available to those from households which earn less than $30K a year, but this only covers a third of the cost of college (it used to cover the full amount, but it no longer does)
  • Job opportunities are insufficient to make up the difference – there are too few jobs, employers offer too few hours (they limit hours to avoid having to pay certain in-work benefits) and wages are too low – thus half of all poor students simply can’t earn enough to pay the rent or for food.

Goldrick-Rab concludes that low-income American families are being sold a ‘myth’ – the ‘myth of the American Dream that it is possible to be upwardly mobile by working your way through college – for 50% of poor students attempting to do so will result in no degree and a lot of debt.  They thus have an expectation which is not going to be met.

However, many families and students feel that it is there fault if they fail to complete, and feel a sense of guilt and shame if they do so.

Goldrick-Rab hopes that her research will act as a wakeup call, alerting people to the statistical facts that you only have a 50-50 chance of getting a degree if you’re poor.

She rounds off by suggesting a policy solution – to make the first two years of college free. Interestingly (which dates the research!) she talks hopefully about Obama and Hilary Clinton putting such policies into practice, but given that we’ve ended up with a Trump administration, it’s unlikely that poor kids are going to get access to fairer opportunities any time soon.

Applications/ Relevance

Sources