Clearing

Definitions, Markets, and Moving Beyond the ‘University’

Some concepts are so huge that they can end up meaning little in isolation. Terms like ‘the student’ and ‘the university’ are a good example. That’s why we’re unlikely to see these terms disappear.

But might we see them in a very different light as time goes on? How definitions change is up to all of us. What do you see going beyond the university?

If you’re stuck for ideas, check out what Richard Hall has to say about moving beyond the university. Take a look at Ronald Barnett’s book, “Being A University“. Read the Times Higher Education piece on a cooperative university in Spain. There’s plenty to chew over and surely much more to come.

What lies beyond?

What lies beyond?

The university as it currently is may not be what everyone wants to keep alive. For some, it emulates the market too much. For others, not enough. Whatever your view, much concern rests in the ability to see universities survive in a meaningful way.

I doubt the idea of the university will simply be replaced with a form of learning and development that is not at all based in higher education. But don’t rule out drastic alterations on many other levels, especially if limited views are applied to complex matters. We’re still in danger that use of the term ‘university’ could be relaxed.

This comes at a time when market terms and analogies are being thrust upon higher education. And when reality proves rather different to what was initially envisaged, the sector continues to undergo tweaking. Just consider the clearing and adjustment process over the last couple of years, as well as moves such as Birmingham’s choice to award unconditional offers to 1,000 applicants.

Despite increasing marketisation of HE, how much of a market is there? Some desire it more than others. If we continue to head in this direction, will aspects of marketisation and customer relations become ever more interchangeable? Will students and teachers “dissolve the symbolic power of the University into the actual, existing reality of protest, in order to engage with this process of transformation”? Will we remain in a confusing soup, or is something more definitive around the corner? What will happen?

Students don’t have an easy choice to transfer to another university or get their money back for a disappointing or inappropriate course. Giving students the label ‘consumer’ is not helpful. Jim Dickinson says that students should not be labelled as if they can only be ‘one of two types’. Learner or consumer? Why not both? Why not anything else? A consumer is not the opposite of a learner, so why set arguments up as an either/or?

I guess it’s in part because simplifications like this are easy to digest and discuss. But the devil, as ever, is in the detail. Limited views are great for soundbites, less useful for policy.

Distinctions are required otherwise the ‘student’ is erroneously deemed two-dimensional. Speaking of which, how distinct is a university?

Maxxim Consulting refers to four ‘distinct groups’ of HEIs with a little overlap and many differences. To apply a blanket market treatment to them is, therefore, unhelpful. The question is, can institutions enhance themselves and develop enough in distinctive attributes under current frameworks? Anything is possible to an extent, but that doesn’t mean they can do ‘enough’. That’s the key word in my view. Slightly different isn’t distinctive enough. Neither is it necessarily there for the benefit of the students they serve.

The final paragraph of the Maxxim Consulting report makes an interesting point:

“The student leadership also has a key part to play as the all-important ‘voice of the consumer’.”

Back to that word ‘consumer’. It wasn’t going to take long for the term to crop up again. If universities are struggling to find a distinctive edge, why should the student be allowed?

In terms of higher education, everyone should be distinct, everything should be distinct, and HE should fuel a thriving to be distinct. Not unique in every possible way, but distinguishable.

This is where the market model is assumed to help achieve great things. Yet a report by CFE and Edge Hill University (“The Uses and Impact of HEFCE Funding for Widening Participation“) has this to say:

“The perceived ‘marketisation’ of HE and increased competition between institutions could mitigate against the prioritisation of collaborative activities and/or activities that derive benefits for the wider sector and policy objectives, such as early interventions in schools.” – p.5

Less collaboration, less benefit to policy, less early years intervention… Ouch.

Moving beyond the university is anything but simple. For every decision in the name of strident consumer action and market forces, there are implications behind the scenes that can contradict all the good intentions. That’s if you assume all intentions to be good. And thus starts yet another debate.

Though it is hard to frame a simple definition to the term ‘university’, this must be attempted before anyone can move beyond it. Stefan Collini tackled this in his book, “What Are Universities For?

Markets require an element of understanding or appreciation by consumers (whoever they are in each case) in order to allow the market to continue operating. Without a market, there is no market, naturally. With this in mind, Collini makes a good point regarding the wider concept of the university:

“Part of the problem may be that while universities are spectacularly good at producing new forms of understanding, they are not always very good at explaining what they are doing when they do this.” – p.89

In addition, Collini does not see a genuine market:

“…the so-called ‘market’ is in practice a rigged framework (benevolently rigged, for the most part) which is periodically adjusted if there is expression of one or another form of discontent with existing provision.” – p.105

There seems no easy way to untangle this. There is no start point or end point. Without a solid presence, it is hard to noticably move beyond anything.

One way to move beyond may be by stealth. Martin McQuillan explains, using Collini’s book once more:

“As [Collini] points out the accelerated growth and complexity of higher education in the UK means that there is no point in its history from the mid-nineteenth century onwards that can be reasonably described as the normal state of things.  He is not in favour of a fixed idea of what a university is but rather recognises the importance of a rainbow sector that is in turn sensitive to the needs of local communities and the nation state that funds it.”

All of this suggests that we, both as individuals and collectives, can work to bring our ideas and ideals of the university closer to a reality. In recognising this ‘rainbow sector’, diversity and distinctiveness should be championed as a way forward to benefit local, national and international viewpoints.

We still don’t have a clear explanation how to achieve this. But diversity promotes more than one answer. The ‘university’ and the ‘student’ are concepts without a single definition. Which definitions do you wish to move beyond, which do you wish to change within, and which do you wish to keep as is?

Welcome to the multitude.

You’ve Got a Place at Uni. Now What?

It’s that time of year again. The wait is over and A-Level results are in. Screams of both joy and despair ringing out across the land.

Most years, I offer up advice on what to do when things don’t go according to plan:

This year, I want to look at what happens when you get the results you need. Hurrah! You’re set to accept an offer and all that’s in between you and a university is a wait between now and September. Maybe even October.

If you’re lucky, the wait is over in a flash. But it can drag on too. Let’s get things going already, can’t we!?

Sitting

Take Control of Your Time

You may not be able to magically transport to uni any earlier, but there are loads of things you can do to prepare. And the more prepared you are, the more time you’ll have to enjoy yourself when you do get to uni.

Now, unless you’re REALLY impatient, you won’t want to throw yourself into study preparation straight away. The good news is that it only takes a small head start to take you a long way. A little bit now could mean a lot of time and bother saved in the long run. If you’re reading this and you love to plan ahead and be in control, I’ve got some tips for you.

Trust me, you won’t be in complete control. What comes next is new. You can’t take ultimate control of something you haven’t experienced before. Luckily, that’s part of the challenge and often ends up being key to learning new things and enjoying the process.

That’s more reason why it’s great to get as much out of the way as possible. Don’t wait until you hit campus if you can do it now. There will be plenty to do by the time you’ve moved in. You’ll be thankful you dealt with what you could when you had the spare time!

Prepare For University

Read what the university send you in the post and via email.
It’s tempting to gloss over half of the gumph you’re sent, but don’t. Awareness is crucial, even if you don’t end up needing a lot of the information. Everything you do need is better handled when you’re clued up.

Read my free ebooks.
TheUniversityBlog has two free ebooks that have helped Freshers over the last few years. Fresher Success sets you up before you start uni and has more than 90 tips from previous Freshers who have been through it all before. Live Life, Study Hard helps you prepare for academic work and explains things like why first year DOES count. Download them right now.

Check out reading lists, but don’t buy all the books or go too crazy.
Core reading (if any) and one or two basic textbooks is more than enough to get you started.
My most helpful reading before the academic year started consisted of two textbooks on the first reading list I was sent. Those textbooks were cheap compared to most of the books on the reading list and I ended up making great use of them before and after I started the year.

Look online for the basics.
For many degrees, you’ll get a good grasp from some online reading. Try to work out what interests you from first impressions of the wider topics you’ll be exploring.
And don’t panic if none of it makes much sense. You’re only taking a look. You’re not expected to know it all when you arrive. Learning is about discovering new things, not showing off that you already know it!

Find other people online who are going to your uni when you are.
Getting to know new people is becoming easier and easier online. Facebook, Twitter, The Student Room…You have loads of opportunity to contact fellow Freshers long before you meet up with them.

Get to know students who are already there, including your Students’ Union peeps.
Your SU reps are there for you and are usually very happy to hear from you. Say hi and get involved.  A great way to get the lowdown before anyone else!

Make everything a head start, rather than a burden.
If it feels like too much bother, don’t bother! You should be having an enjoyable experience, not a stressful one.

Think about what you want to take AND what you don’t need to take.
Leaving stuff behind and starting fresh can be difficult. If you could move your room as it is to your new room, that would be great.
Truth is, what works now probably won’t work when you get to uni. You’re about to discover a whole new you and you need space to let you in!
After essentials and ‘no matter what’ items, what about the rest? Do you really need to take a TV? Are you sure you can’t live without your entire collection of teddies? Is it wise to bring half a gym’s worth of equipment “just in case”?
Everyone thinks about what they should take, but you should spare a moment for things you don’t actually need.

Getting Ahead

These are just some of the things you can work on before you head off.

My best time saving effort was doing the basic reading. I found out about loads of things I’d never even considered before, which was a good combination of challenging and exciting. Once I’d finished reading what I wanted, I had an idea of what to expect. I didn’t think it would give me more than a slight nudge, but it genuinely helped throw me in the right direction while I could spend time on other things. You know, like having fun and getting stuck in to all the other aspects of uni life on offer.

It’s non-stop. Oh, the places you’ll go!

Returning to awesome: 7 things to do after lower A-level results

Okay, it’s A-level results day. If you, or anyone you know, is holding on to grades that weren’t the ones you’d hoped for, read this.

Your life IS NOT shaped by your results. YOU go way beyond a few exam grades.

What makes you awesome isn’t about a particular institution, degree, or career. Those things don’t matter as much as you might think.

Your awesomeness is about what you do. Everything you do. And who you are.

You are the big picture. While your experiences are parts of you, they don’t define you, they only help build a definition of you in pieces. For every situation that makes you want to crawl under a rock, there are many others that will pick you back up and make your big picture more amazing than ever.

In short, you can still make things happen if you want it. Lower A-level results aren’t a fail. You may have failed to secure a firm offer to the degree you wanted, but that doesn’t mean you fail. Or, put another way, failure is fine. It means you work on what’s next for your big picture.

Stuff like this can make you feel deflated. But don’t let it make you give up. Start with some of the following:

Have a cuppa and stay calm. Oh, and a doughnut too. Nom.

1. Take stock and stay calm

Yes, it’s time to pick yourself up, but have a cup of tea first. Have a few cups of tea. Basically, let it go for a moment. Nobody expects you to jump up fighting straight after a shock. So relax. As hard as that sounds, try.
It is not the end of the world. If anyone acts like it is, they are wrong. Hope is not lost.
Imagine how it feels when you’re really dizzy. Your balance is thrown around at first, but you gradually improve. Give yourself time to feel a bit less dizzy.

2. Consider clearing options

Although some unis say they have no clearing places, that’s no reason to ignore what is available. Check my previous posts on clearing to make sure you are prepared:

Other clearing tips online today:

3. Only accept a place through clearing if you really want it and you think it’ll suit you

Just grabbing at places because you’re desperate to go to uni is a dangerous move. If you really are that keen to be in a uni, ANY uni, it’s better to find places that will guarantee you a place next year based on the grades you have. Then plan ahead for the year ahead.
Yes, even though tuition fees go up next year. Fees are more annoying than dangerous.

4. Consider your other options

We’re all thrown curveballs from time to time. You certainly won’t be alone in this situation. There are other routes into uni. And you may even decide not to bother with university at all. Correct, that IS an option. Seriously. A good place to start in checking out other options is notgoingtouni.com.

The Independent has information on distance learning options.

Also check out Ross Renton’s tips on what do you do if you don’t get a place at University.

5. Find support from understanding friends and family

Don’t go through this alone. And if it is too tough to speak to those you know, seek online forums of support. There will be a lot of people going through similar circumstances over at The Student Room, for instance.

UCAS also has an Exam Results Helpline, with people on hand to discuss your future options. Give them a call on 0808 100 8000. UCAS say, “Whether it’s questions about continuing into further or higher education, or pursuing different routes such as vocational learning routes, taking a gap year or finding employment, advisers are on-hand to offer free, expert and independent information and advice”.

6. Work on Plan B, even when you don’t have one

University and College Union says that tens of thousands of students who don’t get a uni place this year are “unlikely to have a plan B“.

So make one. Now you’ve considered your options, make a focused plan. It doesn’t have to be detailed, but it does need to be taken seriously.
Why? Because now is not the time to despair and grab at the first thing to fall into your reach.
Give it proper thought. Ask yourself some questions. What were you going to university for? How else can you get to where you want to be? Who or what can help you in your quest? Do you have any particular career or pathway in mind?
If you can’t answer all your questions, do some more research. And don’t be afraid to ask for advice as you do it. Nobody would be able to do as much as they do without other people.

7. Believe in yourself

It’s not always easy to pick yourself up after a fall. But don’t be hard on yourself. What’s done is done. If you did your best, there is nothing to worry about. You can shine brighter in other ways. If you know in your heart of hearts that you could have upped the effort, let this be Day One of making the effort you know you can give.

Good luck to you and may you have an amazing future.

Find Quality Courses Through Clearing – 10 Top Tips

For those of you reading who aren’t yet at uni and are awaiting your A-Level results, I hope you get the grades you’re looking for.

Photo by Brian Auer

Photo by Brian Auer

But whatever happens on Thursday, be sure not to panic.  If you don’t get what you need to be accepted at your chosen uni course, the game ain’t over yet.  Rather than drown your sorrows, pick yourself up and tell yourself that you’re on a mission to find a great course at a great university.  Put everything in to the mission.  Prepare yourself for the Clearing Quest!

You want some help on this quest?  Here are 10 tips to get you the place you want through Clearing:

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