When guiding students through the fraught filling-in of Ucas forms this year, Sir David Bell wants teachers to remember one crucial thing: “Many criticisms once levelled at the higher education sector are simply no longer true”.
Sir David is the current vice-chancellor of the University of Reading and former Ofsted chief inspector of schools. He writes in the 17 October issue of TES that while many of the criticisms aimed at the sector in the past – limited contact time, outdated facilities and disinterested teachers – once held some degree of truth in certain places, these issues have now been addressed as part of wholesale changes introduced across all universities.
“Key complaints, particularly after the rise in fees, relate to out-of-date facilities and a lack of contact teaching time," he writes. "With regard to the former, an amenities arms race has resulted in billions of pounds being spent on improving and upgrading facilities. Libraries, laboratories, lecture theatres, halls of residence, sports facilities and study areas across the country have all had major makeovers.
“As for the level of contact time, universities have placed a far greater priority on teaching in recent years. In-service training and the dissemination of good practice, within and between universities, is now commonplace. As well as an increase in face-to-face experience, more attention is being given to helping students study more productively. The use of technology to enhance learning – an area where many universities used to lag behind schools – is also improving.”
Sir David says that teachers need to present this new picture to their students alongside other key advice about what universities are for and how to judge what makes a good course or institution.
He argues that students need to realise a university education is about more than enhancing employment chances, while league tables are not the definitive guide to what makes a university a good place to attend.
Sir David explains these points in detail – and lists other top tips for teachers assisting students with Ucas applications – in the full article. And he sums up his advice with what is perhaps a surprising conclusion for a university vice-chancellor: teachers need to ensure students know that university is not the only post-18 education option, a point that will no doubt be greeted with cheers in further education colleges across the country.
Read the full article in the 17 October edition of TES on your tablet or phone or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents.