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Headteacher's Blog

August

The dust is now beginning to settle for our current Year 13 students. This year record numbers of students have received unconditional university offers. The number of students taking up places in high quality apprenticeships has also increased.

Again this year students have been successful in gaining places at Oxford and Cambridge. Nine students obtained straight ‘A’ grades or higher in 3 or 4 subjects. All subjects performed well, particularly Sciences and Maths.  

Around ‘A’ Level results time there is always something in the news that attempts to undermine the credibility of the exams or the application process to university. This year it is the turn of the  ‘unconditional’ offer which, according to UCAS, has reached the dizzy height of 68,000 university places.  

The university business model is based upon the income generated by filling the  optimum number of courses. Over recent years it has been well document that universities have been out with credit card. For example, in the academic year 2015/6 Cardiff University raised £300 million through a public bond. University College London borrowed from the European Investment Bank help fund a new campus in east London. Somehow the debt has to be financed.

The UK birth rate provides a clue to the problems ahead; In 1997 there were 726K births. Undergraduates from this cohort of youngsters are just about finishing a 3 year degree. The number of births did not approach the 1997 high-water mark again until 2004/5. (The students currently in Year7/8.) Add this to the impact of Brexit and the draw of high quality post 18 apprenticeships, then it is clear that a perfect storm is brewing for university finance.

The unconditional offer gets the student  through the door and their £9k tuition fee onto the balance sheet. There is something uncomfortable about the unconditional offer, not least its impact on the motivation of students. Perhaps we can go back to a position where universities offer courses with realistic but aspirational entry requirements. 

I would forecast that a number of universities will have to collaborate, rationalise or even merge over the next few years if they are to survive. We have already seen this start to occur in the FE sector.

Headteacher