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Post-18 advice 'better in schools'

Advice to college students on the university options available is no better than it was eight years ago, according to a survey by education marketing specialists.

The survey, sponsored by the University and College Admissions Service and carried out by the Higher Education Information Services Trust, shows that school "sixth-formers" in year 12 are better advised and have more accurate information about the options available.

It cites some mitigating factors such as the fact that the further education intake is still skewed to the least well-off social and economic groups.

These students' parents are less likely to have been to university than those who take the more traditional school sixth-form route.

The fragmented "multi-site" colleges also hamper opportunities to run an integrated HE advice service, the survey shows.

But the survey reveals more disturbing concerns. It found that the new universites are less easily identified than the former polytechnics. With the name changes and continuing academic drift in these institutions there is a decreasing likelihood of FE students applying to them.

Dave Roberts, chief executive of the HEIST, said: "It became clear from the research that there is a direct correlation between the respondent's ability to name an institution and that institution's application share among its peers."

A deeper concern appears to be the failure of many HE institutions to carry through pledges to recruit directly from FE colleges that have associateships and partnership agreements with the universities.

Several have expressed concern to The TES over what they see as the failure of many universities to give adequate basic support to students from backgrounds without a tradition of university entrance. One principal said: "We are seriously considering pulling the plug on our links programme."

The chance of widespread withdrawal of co-operation, however, is remote. Instead, the report is certain to raise concerns among college managers that their services may be deficient.

Several told The TES autumn survey of enrolments that while they were pleased with progress on efforts to recruit and retain students they were still concerned at the lack of adequate systems for tracking student destinations, particularly to higher education.

Others have expressed concern over alleged "poaching" and "cherry-picking", with universities snatching the brightest students from FE college-based degree and diploma courses, leaving them depleted seven to eight weeks into the courses.

Stockport College of Further and Higher Education has been hit particularly hard by alleged poaching.

Dick Evans, the principal, said the policy of competition, rather than co-operation, was doing "untold damage" to relations between the sectors.

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