Monday, December 18, 2006

I Wish I'd Done Something Else

...but not something very different.

The FT reports today on a survey from the CIPD which headlines with the ostensibly alarming statement that a third of graduates 'rue' their degree choice.

The thing is, the article actually then goes into the findings of the survey, and the results seem actually reasonably positive. Graduates who started work in 2000 have "enjoyed rapid improvements in both real and relative earnings", with salaries increasing by an average of 55 per cent since they graduated, which sounds pretty healthy. And 'most students' (an unquantified amount, but one I expect is rather high (edit: now the story has hit the Guardian, I see I am a soothsayer - it's over 90%)), would have gone to university if they had their chance again, so aside from a vague yearning to have perhaps done another subject (one I'm certainly prone to when when I see the earnings of solicitors), graduates seem quite happy with university.

It's almost as if the journalist wants people to believe that the findings are bad!

But it's difficult to assess how good that data is, because the survey's not currently available online and I can't therefore check the methodology. Some clues are available. The graduates starting salary is quoted as £19,451, which is about 2k north of the real figures, and there's a whopping gender pay gap of 14 per cent. Put together with the fact that it's the CIPD we're talking here and I suspect we're looking at London-based professionals, which also implies a prevalence of private-sector managerial or financial service employment for the men, and perhaps a larger proportion of public-sector employment (still, despite what the Daily Mail might tell you, lower paid) for the women.

One interesting point is that the chief economist of the CIPD, John Philpott mentions that many graduates "will be unable to fulfil their wish to retire early." The UK Graduate Careers Survey from earlier in the year made the hugely entertaining finding that 4% of graduates this year expected to have earnt enough to retire by the time they were 30. If young people are being that unrealistic, then it is not a failing of the education or employment system.

Postscript (for now):a little bird tells me that this survey isn't out until the New Year.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

What Do Graduates Do? 2007

What Do Graduates Do?, the annual publication from HECSU and AGCAS, covering the intial career steps of graduates, came out last month.

256,460 UK-domiciled graduates got first degrees from UK universities in 2005, the first time that over a quarter of a million graduates were produced. That's up 1.4% on 2004, which indicates a slower rate of increase than in previous years. 206,965 replied to the destination survey that makes up WDGD, which is a pretty decent response rate of over 80% - this is a good survey (the Higher Education Statistics Agency's Destinations of Leavers of Higher Education survey, to be precise) with good data.

The proportion of women graduates increased again this year. 57.7% of respondent graduates were women.

71.7% of graduates were either working, or combining work and study, six months after graduation.

13.9% of graduates went on to further study or training, with 2.8% going on to teacher training.

6.2% of graduates went on to study another higher degree, another minor fall of 0.1% on last year.

Unemployment was marginally up, 0.1%, on last year, to 6.2%, but still much lower than the figure of 6.9% for 2003 graduates. Graduate unemployment does seem to be a bit lower than usual in the last couple of years.

About 65% of those working six months after graduation were in jobs that required a degree by the standard classifications, which must be an awful blow to the 'degrees are worthless' brigade, but is not too bad a result - of course, the remaining 35% tend to move into better jobs over time.

(About 10% of a given graduate cohort don't get graduate jobs, and under 3% end up long-term unemployed. This seems to have remained about constant since the 80s.)

Starting graduate salaries averaged £17,697. I don't think they'll break 18k this year. There's loads of stuff on individual subjects which I'll get to later. Keep it short and snappy, that's (hopefully) my motto.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Labour Market Information

More from the Leitch Report. Oh yes, the fun never stops around here.

Buried away in the report (Page 91, Section 5.23, thanks for asking), is this little gem.

"Labour market information (LMI) provides a context in which a firm makes an investment decision. At present, there are various sources of labour market information for employers. However, there is little co-ordination between different sources, meaning that in some instances they deliver contradictory information. As Chapter 4 sets out, effective LMI is an essential tool for SSCs to fulfil their role. The Review recommends that SSCs have primary responsibility for gathering and disseminating LMI, within a common framework.'

Now for those of (cough) us who produce and use LMI, this is very interesting - even though it's just a recommendation and needs a bit of work (a common framework for a start) to get together. An integrated national LMI resource would be a colossally useful tool, and in theory, the SSCs are in a good position to deliver it. In practise, though, there are a number of problems to be anticipated. Firstly, the SSCs certainly don't cover the whole economy and, as stated in the Report itself, are poorly defined and sometimes overlap. Secondly, and at least as seriously - where is the expertise? The SSDA's magnum opus, the excellent Working Futures report, was written by the Institute of Employment Research at Warwick - an excellent team, but conspicuously not part of the SSCs themselves.

The SSCs published a fair amount of LMI over the last 18 months or so as part of the Sector Skills Agreement process, but of varying quality, and it's often quite hard to find. The SSCs in general have also been accused, with some justification, at being poor at LMI for graduates and above - and some feel that they are not great communicators. This is not true for all of them, of course, but for this to work, all the SSCs have to get it right. I wonder if it will.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

More What Do PhDs Do-ery

My reader (hi John) has probably noticed that I didn't post much for a while, and that's because I was a bit pressed for time, what with graduate employment not researching itself and whatnot. This isn't so bad because it means that there's a backlog of things I can write about (yes, let's accentuate the positive on this). Excuses over now - let's start writing.

'What Do PhDs Do' was the first attempt to take a look at the destinations of PhD graduates in the UK in a systematic way, and it made some interesting findings about the outcomes of doctoral study - not least that most PhD graduates don't go into academia - much to the surprise of everyone involved.

The sequel is now out (ok, it's been out a while), which takes a look at regional PhD study and employment as well as migration. Now, this is based on data for graduates from 2003 (data for 2004 graduates are available here, but in much less detail), but the findings are applicable in most cases to the current state because PhD employment is not terribly volatile at the moment. There is little to massively shock anyone in there, but this sort of work is useful in that there is a lot assumed about PhD outcomes, but not a lot known. In time, this work (which is continuing), will allow us to do some things that we can't really do very effectively at the moment - like map PhD employment trends.

In the meantime, the lack of volatility might change if we have a pharma industry crash, for example, but it's interesting to see where the opportunities are, both within and outside academia.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

World Class Skills

The Leitch Review of Skills is now out after a lengthy wait, and it has a fair amount to say - much of it unlikely to go heavily reported as it isn't too controversial and the report is a meaty 154 pages long.

The basic premise is this - in global comparisons, we're pretty average on the skills level of the workforce, which is fine if we want a pretty average economy. If we want a better than average economy - and we do - we're going to tackle some skills issues at basic, intermediate and high end skills - which means getting more people to pass GCSEs or basic vocational training, more people to get degrees and other vocational skills, and get employers better at offering training in general.

Some entertaining stuff early on, where Leitch describes the Sector Skills Councils as having 'conflicting objectives, the lack of a clear remit, deficiencies in performance management, and ineffective leadership' - although he later calls on them to have a key role in driving up skills demands from industry, particularly for management skills, and in SMEs.

Buried in there are some interesting statements about university education.

One key target is that he wants 40 per cent of the adult population to have a degree-level qualification by 2020. This is a much more cunning way of iterating the 50 per cent participation target, and may be even more ambitious - currently, 29 per cent of the UK working population has a degree, and by 2020, population trends suggest fewer young people than currently, so in order to drive that adult participation figure up, we may need more than 50 per cent of 18-30 year olds getting HE qualifications. Wonder if anyone will pick up on that? Interestingly, he also states that he wants an 'increased focus on Level 5 and above skills' - postgraduate qualifications for those of us who are not fluent in NVQ-ese.

Another way to put this is, by 2020, we need 5.5 million adults in the UK to have degree-level qualifications if we want a world class workforce.

This rise is to be partly led by industry skill demand, and Leitch calls on greater private investment in the university system, suggesting co-funding of university research chairs by industry and government as a possibility.

For all those who think we don't need 40 per cent of the population to have degrees, Leitch points out that we've upped the proportion from 19 per cent to 29 per cent between 1994 and the present day but that, for example, the US and Canada have both worked harder at this than we have, and they both already have 40 per cent of the population educated to degree level. In fact, Leitch reckons we might need 45 per cent of the population from 19 to retirement to get degree level skills by 2020, in order to stay competitive.

All this is before I even get onto the postgrad bits (a target for which is 'not considered to be appropriate at this stage'.)

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I'm Still Here

Not dead yet.

Much amusement today as the OECD's Education At A Glance annual report, comparing various national education systems around the world, is published. The comedy derives from the findings of this august, international, independent bodies, and what this means for the national press.

Yes, I'm afraid that the UK HE system is actually rather good, provides excellent career benefits, and more people should use it - exactly the opposite of what the hacks have been shouting (on purely anecdote-based opinion, rather than evidence-based) grounds all summer. Especial praise goes to the Daily Mail who have po-facedly reported that it's a searing indictment of our appalling government that more youngsters don't take advantage of this internationally marvellous system. I'd link to the article, but it's rubbish.

Anyway, the facts. The current graduate premium in the UK is 58% over the salary an average non-graduate will earn. There are some countries that better us, but they are either the US (which is marginally better but has much lower wages at the bottom of the scale), or countries like Hungary or Poland with far starker labour market segmentation. So saying, we're starting to fall in with the Hungaries of this world as 38% of those without HE qualifications earn under half the national average salary - this probably demonstrates the detrimental effect of not going to university rather better than other figures show the positives of going.

The OECD say that 52% of young people (in their case, they mean people between 18 and 30, and their opinion of what constitutes HE is different to the dti, who say the figure is 42%, but this is an international comparison, so let's go with it) in the UK go on to HE, but that this is behind quite a lot of countries, including Australia, NZ and the US. We have an excellent completion rate (78%, against a global average of 70%) and the second highest proportion of overseas students - 38.6% of our students are foreign and 11% of all students worldwide who study outside their home country come to the UK. And higher fees don't seem to be putting them off. Yes. It all seems rather rosy. But the concerns lurk at the lower end of the skills market, where those 38% of people who don't go to HE are obviously losing out very badly. The report is concerned that there are simply not enough people who are sufficiently qualified to access higher education in the UK, and that this is going to harm competitiveness in the long run.

Still, a good day for a sector that has got a fearful kicking of late. It will be fun to see how it's reported.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A-levels are rubbish, apparently

The BBC ran this story last week, about two academics from Edge Hill University (the Ormskirk-based institution that recently won university status). In it, Dr. Lesley Sumner and Dr. Richard Ralley conducted a survey on 216 Edge Hill graduates, and found that those from a vocational route into degrees did better than those who came from A-levels.

This is an interesting piece of work, and valuable in that it shows that a vocational route into university is not necessarily second class to the traditional A-level pathway. Certainly, it is to be hoped that the authors continue and expand their work on a wider scale.

But then we have the press release on the research.
The report, which is due for publication later this year presents a major blow to the present A-level system...
A study of 216 students from one institution says nothing to warrant this level of hyperbole - thankfully the authors themselves have said nothing that is unsupported by the results of their work. Edge Hill, with a large proportion of students coming in through widing participation initiatives, is certainly not representative of the UK HE system in general, and their entrants not representative of the A-level cohort. It needs other universities to be involved before anyone can have any meaningful idea about the effectiveness of A-levels.
The BBC, of course, printed the story anyway, presumably on the principle that it said something exciting, and that accuracy was not really a prerequisite. There are already a phenomenal number of misconceptions about HE in this country - do we really need the BBC to help creating more?

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Friday, July 14, 2006

Public Sector Graduates Stole All Our Money

What fun. Reports of a recent survey from the Hay Group are focussing on the story that graduates in the public sector are set to earn more than those in private employment this year. The Daily Mail has particularly enjoyed this story (note, they didn't print my counterbalancing comment.)

The survey polled 550 employers, so we are told. Because we don't know. The data is not publically available, we can't get at the report, and we don't know who's in the sample. But the interview in the BBC article lets us guess. The NHS (most likely the Executive) and the Civil Service (by which, I suspect they mean, 'The Civil Service Fast Stream') get a mention.

In fact, this came out the same week as a new AGR survey, which found an increase in vacancies - it seems from a few indicators that it might be a good year for graduate employment - and an average salary of £23,156 - well above the Hay Group's average of £20,036, and even their public sector average of £21,445. The AGR survey has its faults - poor coverage of the public sector and of jobs outside London, as explained in more detail here.. But this Hay Group survey, whilst probably closer to the overall, also looks skewed. The public sector data is clearly badly inflated, with central government jobs probably being used as a proxy for the whole public sector, from doctors to desk clerks. The shame is that, not only is this being used for political advantage by the Mail, but that the Hay Group seem quite happy to let that happen.

The average graduate starting salary this year will be somewhere between £18 and £19k. The top three public sector professions will be, as they always are, doctors, nurses and teachers. Those are the facts, and a fictitious army of lucratively paid graduates doing nebulous jobs funded by the tax-payer is not.

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Friday, June 09, 2006

How will UK universities survive global competition?

One thing that came out whilst I was away was the Council for Industry and Higher Education report on the International Competitiveness of UK universities, authored by Richard Brown and Philip Ternouth, and originally brought up in this post.

Much of the coverage has been dominated by Brown's eye-catching pronounciations about outsourcing research, but such recommendations make up only a very small part of the overall report.

Much of the work consisted of interviews with senior management - often chief executives - of multinationals involved in research and about what these large, wealthy, powerful and global organisations want from their employees. And it seems that the UK fares rather well.

The report is very positive about the quality of the research done at UK universities, the quality of our graduates, and the flexibility and acumen of our top academics. With the authors warning that big companies have the resources to go to the very best institutions in the world for research partners, it seems many UK universities are world class business collaborators in a range of fields - and it's often not the ones routinely cited as 'the best'.

But Brown and Ternouth have a number of recommendations and, indeed, warnings. They note that where the UK sometimes falls down is on value for money, especially compared with technically able institutions in India - this is the genesis of the 'outsourcing' stories. They suggest we need to attract more able overseas students, as big business is very fond of those who have the drive to move to another country to get the best education. And in particular, our base of science research is dangerously eroded. In addition, the Government has already pared central funding down to a minimum, and must not make any more funding cuts.

Finally, the authors complain that UK HE has been 'on the back foot' for too long.

'…what is best about UK higher education needs to be recognised and defended; it also needs to be lauded.'

Amen to that.

The report appears to be being taken seriously by the Treasury - let's hope they act on it and particularly accept that if they want a world-class HE system, it might be a good idea to fund it properly.

We can also hope that commentators who constantly bang on about what a terrible state HE in the UK is in might read this and start to accept that not everything is broken.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Work for social science PhDs

My little break whilst the outside world impinged is now over.

The ESRC have just published a report on the employment of social science PhDs.

It's an interesting document, building on research such as What Do PhDs Do?, to take a look at the practicalities of employment for doctorates in these subjects - there are estimated to be 20,500 PhD holders in the social sciences in the UK.

The main point is that although the majority work in academia (about 74%, although the researchers do believe they are under-reporting non-academics), business would like to recruit more of them. The common view amongst public (and employers) is that a doctorate is an ivory tower qualification that does not fit anyone for the 'real world', whatever that may be. This report gives the lie to that received opinion.

But it does warn that those employers who do recruit social science PhDs particularly prize project management and leadership skills that are rarely formally developed as part of doctoral training. The same went for other important skills, such as research management, teamworking and entrepreneurial abilities.

Most non-academic employers, in the words of the report,

...did not perceive that they had recruited such employees, and where they did recognise that they had done so, responded that they did not require applicants for those positions to have PhDs, and very often were unable to identify which amongst their employees had such qualifications...

This is rather familiar to those who have studied PhD employment, but more encouraging was the identification of three potential employment niches for social science PhDs - small, specialist research agencies and consultancies (who looked for all round research skills, project management, and interpersonal skills), employers looking for specific technical and analytical skills, such as organisational clinical psychologists or experts in certain HR techniques, and large organisations looking for economists or development experts.

Perhaps most significantly, both PhD holders and employers felt that social science PhDs were under-developed in terms of quantitative and numeracy skills. Food for thought for those academics who deride the quantitative in favour of the qualitative?

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Friday, April 28, 2006

100k? And Whither The RAE?

Two stories this time around. The first is the annual UK Graduate Careers Survey, in which we discover, amongst other things, that 12% of a sample of 16,452 current finalists - or 1974 current final year students - expect to be earning 100k a year by the time they are 30. Whilst it is tempting to just have a bit of a laugh, it is a rather deeper concern that there are so many young people at university who don't seem to be sufficiently aware of the labour market that they are setting themselves up for disappointment. It is not as if information is not available to them.
One could also see it as refreshing that, despite a constant diet of gloomy stories, many finalists are so aspirational.
There's lots of other interesting stuff in the report (as long as you ignore the rather silly stuff about what students would do if they had to pay £3k tuition fees - which look really like a thinly-disguised 'do you agree with tuition fees' question.)

Over to the Higher Education Policy Institute, where the redoubtable Tom Sastry and Bahram Bekhradnia have produced a 74-page document assessing alternatives to the RAE. The authors are concerned about Gordon Brown's budget statement, and the 'Next Steps' document, updating the Science and Innovation Investment Framework, that came out as a result. The concern arises over the statement in Next Steps that after the 2008 RAE, research funding will be allocated on the basis of quantitative 'metrics', and mentions specifically metrics based on income from research funders.

Whilst it is meticulously argued, I do wonder about the value of such a document so early in the process - we have no real picture of what these metrics will be, or if the process will change in the near future. But the authors do make excellent points about potential inequities in funding, and particularly about possible impacts on academic freedom.

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Monday, April 24, 2006

But...where's the evidence?

The headline on the front page of yesterday's Observer said, 'The true cost of a college education', and the story tells us that graduates now have to work until they're 33 before they earn as much as people who didn't go to university.

That sounds pretty bad. But...where's the evidence?

The story doesn't even tell us the methodology or where to find the report. It was conducted by Gabbitas Educational Consultants, a perfectly reputable consultancy specialising in private education and seems linked to Independent Remuneration Solutions, another perfectly reputable consultancy who do a lot of salary surveys (both companies share the same director, Peter Brown, who also lectures at Cranfield Business School).

But for some reason, none of the evidence we need to evaluate the piece is available. Until then, it doesn't add anything to the debate. Why was it printed in that form?

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edited at 10:45 on 25/04/06 because I got a crucial fact wrong - Peter Brown is identified as the author of the piece. Sorry.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Panel for Research Integrity

The new UK Panel for Research Integrity in the Health and Biomedical Sciences began operation on 12th April. The remit is to combat fraud in the health and medical sciences.

Professor Michael Farthing, of St.George's medical school, and the pro-VC of medicine of the University of London, chaired the planning committee, and has said some pretty robust things about supporting whistleblowers, particularly in light of the case of Dr. Aubrey Blumsohn, in which a senior Sheffield University academic was suspended from his job (which he has subsequently left) after highlighting concerns about the conduct of a drug study.

Sir Ian Kennedy, a medical ethics expert, will chair the board. Sir Ian has already described some university procedures for investigating misconduct as 'completely unequal to the task', 'not fit for purpose', and 'pitiful', so we can be confident that the Panel will take their role seriously.

The intial proposals for the panel are documented here, and it looks like a really positive move. Many critics of health research, rightly or wrongly, are very fond of throwing allegations of unethical practise at research they don't like, and this may help counter that.

So saying, Dr. Peter Wilmshurst of the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, an eminent cardiologist and member of the initial consultation panel, has expressed concerns about the panel operating under the auspices of UUK - arguing that UUK often has a vested interest in suppressing issues that are heavily critical of universities.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

What do pharmacy graduates want

Dr. Karen Hassell of the University of Manchester has headed a team who have just delivered an interesting report into the motivations of pharmacy graduates in the UK to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

The teamhave been tracking pharmacy entrants since 2004, and they're due to graduate this year - they'll then be followed up until 2008.

The report shows a fascinating picture of an industry that sees increasing numbers of intelligent female entrants, who have expectations of their employers (with regards to flexible working and the chance for career breaks) that the employers may not always be willing or even able to meet.

Added to that is the desire of a large number of pharmacy graduates to own their own business - an aspiration that is now far more difficult to achieve than a generation ago due to the twin pressures of big chains and supermarkets on the one hand, and a saturated market on the other.

The overall impression is that the pharmacy industry is on the verge of some sizeable changes in attitude and possibly structure.

There is an allied issue, less addressed in this report. The excellent salaries available to registered pharmacists make academia financially unattractive, and with expanding numbers of university applications to the subject leading to new departments opening, there are real concerns over the supply of academics.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Quick education update

Two quick stories while I have a few minutes.

1: The BMA conference has heard how medical training in the UK is facing some serious problems. From the Guardian story,

Professor Sir Charles George, the chairman of the BMA's board of medical education said many challenges faced medical education, including a lack of appropriate teacher training, teaching methods and funding shortfalls.

"Teaching, and a success in that, has not had the same recognition as research," Sir Charles said.

Basically, we're trying to train doctors, but there has been a terrible problem attracting good quality academics to medicine because the comparative financial rewards compare very, very unfavourably with medical practise. The BMA have been flagging this up for ages, but it hasn't seemed to have percolated through. Perhaps when we stop being able to cater for HE demand in the subject, it will.

2. The Office of Science and Technology commissioned a report into the impact of UK science in conjunction with Evidence Ltd..

They found that we're second behind the US in terms of citations, producing 9% of the world's scientific papers, but getting 12% of the citations. In the Science & Innovation Investment Framework 2004, the respective figures were quoted as 8.5% of published papers, and 11% of citations, so either British scientists have been writing a lot more papers, or other nations have slackened off.

Says the Guardian:
The Evidence study of research from around the world showed the UK ranked in the top three in eight disciplines - biological (2), clinical (2), environmental (2), humanities (2), maths (3), pre-clinical and health (2), social sciences (2) and business (2).

However, physical sciences are significant by their absence, which has to be a concern. Good to see clinical and health sciences there in light of my first story.

The report is currently erroring when I try to access it. Link will be provided later.

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Monday, March 13, 2006

Oversea student numbers in HE continue to rise

Today brings news from HESA that the number of overseas students studying in UK HE rose by 6.1 per cent in 2004/5, after a rise of 9 per cent in the previous year.

HESA breaks the data out into EU and non-EU students, noting that the number of EU students has risen sharply due to the accession of the new member states last year, but none of the top 10 countries are actually in the EU. This is very important, as fees are much higher for non-EU students, and the universities get a great deal of money from these overseas students. There were 52675 Chinese students in UK HE alone in 2004/5.

Universities are very keen both to attract more overseas students, to increase fee income, and to find out what they do when they leave, in order to assess whether the eduation they gained here has had a benefit.

Non-EU students are not covered by the first destination survey, and there have been concerns about the quality of services offered to overseas students. Research into careers provision for overseas students was carried out by the Centre for Research and Evaluation (CRE) at Sheffield Hallam University and the Centre for Research into Quality (CRQ) at the University of Central England in Birmingham last year, and the report concluded that the expectations of overseas students often did not match the reality of what was available. Although this was often not the fault of the universities, some of the information that was available about such things as the possibility of term-time working was lacking and needed improvement. Similar gaps between the promised experience and the reality are likely in other areas of HE.

Many overseas students in HE complain that they are seen as revenue sources first and foremost, and as they are so important to the sector, we have to be sure that we are giving the increasing numbers coming the the UK a really high-quality experience. That does not always happen at the moment.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Higher Education Makes Better Cities

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has just published a lengthy report by Professor Michael Parkinson, Director of the European Institute for Urban Affairs at Liverpool John Moores University, entitled, 'State of the English Cities'

It is described as
...the most comprehensive study ever undertaken of England's cities and towns. It focuses on 56 major towns and cities in England and covers five main themes: demographics, social cohesion, economic competitiveness & performance, liveability, governance & the impact of policy.

Not surprisingly, the south and east is wealthy compared to the west and north, but one of the main conclusions is the difference a university makes to a city. These 56 cities contain 63 per cent of the UK's total jobs, and the report shows how these urban jobs are becoming more and more skilled.

One the one hand, this is partly because manufacturing is withering away. Much of this growth, however, is knowledge-driven, and those cities with universities have, with a couple of exceptions, outperformed those without. This is not just because of the skills and labour force that they can supply, of course. A large university is an extremely significant local employer, especially of graduates. Manchester University employs over 8,000 staff, and is the second largest employer in the city (the NHS, thanks for asking), to take an example.

Equally, there is a strong and significant link between the economic success of a city, and the number and proportion of degree holders working there.

This research backs up findings from many previous reports, most recently the Leitch Review, and it is clear that the Government regards universities as key components in their regional strategy. But how much support are they getting centrally, and, in particular, are the RDA's really properly aware of HE's central place in their own regions? There remains a strong suspicion that universities are taken for granted, and seen solely as a place where people are trained to work in London. Other concerns are raised by the unsurprising finding that the south east attracts the most foreign investment, whilst the North, with plenty of appropriately skilled labour, goes begging.

As the Leitch Review reported, the UK is the most centralised country, with the exception of Belgium, in Europe. This reinforces the image of London as the place for graduates, and graduate employers, to go. This has to stop, and this needs to be tackled at a central and a regional level. It is all very well saying 'What's good for London is good for the rest of the country', but it drains the skills from regions that need those skills more than an already overcrowded city does. In particular, central government needs to stop all the foot-dragging and making of excuses, and move more high level functions out of the capital.

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Friday, February 24, 2006

Study Medicine: Get The Job You Want

Today's survey (warning! PDF) is one of 3000 UK medical graduates from 2003-5, conducted by the General Medical Council. It's not exactly a surprise to find that being a medical student gives a good guarantee of a good job, but the interesting thing is in the detail.

95% of all students were working as doctors (and 99% of those were in the NHS, with military medical posts the next most popular) at the time of the survey, and the majority of those that weren't were doing it out of choice.

However, 2%, or 67 graduates, were not working as doctors and wanted to be - although almost all of them had worked as a doctor since graduating.

The number of medical students graduating has remained relatively steady for a number of years, and this implies that we're training about the right number at the moment.

There's some interesting things in there about specialisation, and the future plans of young doctors as well. Well worth a read (and it isn't too long).

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Academic Staff Numbers Up

Figures out this week from HESA show that the number of academic staff at universities increased by 6.9% between 2003/4 and 2004/5, to 160,655.

The number of non-academic staff has fallen slightly, but that is also linked to a reporting error with last year's Open University figures.

The figures also show that whilst women make up the majority of university students, only 15.8% of professors, and 29% of senior lecturers are women.

This rise in staff numbers is particularly interesting in light of the forthcoming strike action from the members of NATFHE and the AUT. Academic salaries are have been getting steadily less competitive for years, whilst the job is becoming harder and less attractive, but with 160,655 pay rises perhaps in the offing, you can see why the sector is resisting.

Bear in mind, though, that the total academic staff at universities at the UK is about two thirds the size of a single graduating cohort, and, depending on counting methodology, about 7% of the total number of students studing in the UK - at last count, 2,247,440.

In other words, we currently have an average of 1 academic for every 14 students in the UK. That sounds about right to me.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Social mobility unlinked to education?

First up, a quick link back to this post, about research finding that the social sciences are facing some skills issues in the future. The report is now out, and can be found here.

Research from the Centre of Educational Sociology at Edinburgh University suggests that education policy alone contributes little to social mobility, and that wealth redistribution is much more effective.

The researchers, Dr Cristina Iannelli and Professor Lindsay Paterson, examined Scottish social survey data from 1910 onwards, and found that since the abolition of selective schools in Scotland in the 1970s, there has been no impact from educational reform on upward social mobility.

Dr. Iannelli said,
Upward mobility has been common for at least five decades, and the parents of people born since the 1960s have themselves benefited from it to such an extent that there is less room for their children to move further up.

This leads to questions about the introduction of variable tuition fees in Scotland. Dr. Iannelli is concerned about the consequences if the most popular universities bring in higher fees.
The best labour market rewards might then go to graduates from the highest status universities populated by the most middle-class students. In such circumstances, social inequality would at best remain unchanged, and could start to worsen for the first time in at least half a century

Not a good scenario at all, and obviously relevant to the rest of the UK.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

University applications down. A bit.

Almost tangible disappointment from the press today as the UCAS admissions figures failed to produce any desperately scandalous figures.

An idea of what the papers seemed to be hoping for is given by the Guardian, here, but in the end, we got a small fall in applicant numbers, of about 3.4% (down 12,941 on last year), which is not dissimilar to the figures the year the last round of student fee changes came in. Of course, the year after the numbers rose again, and the really interesting figures will be this time next year.

There's not a great deal of pattern to the changes - there are falls in the number of applications for the overwhelmingly popular law and psychology courses - but for every chamistry application, we still have 4 psychology application, so I don't see those two falling down an abyss any time soon (80,929 applications to law, the most popular course, 74,151 for psychology, 18,760 for chemistry). Equally, the changes are spread over region and socio-economic class (although applications from Wales are up).

The NUS is right to an extent to say that the fall in numbers is down to tuition fees, but as is typical, overexaggerate for effect. The Minister, Bill Rammell is bullish, but knows that the figures have to bounce back next year, or there's trouble. He's right to say that last year saw a very large increase in applications, and so a fall might be expected, but it wasn't necessarily inevitable.

Here's what the papers have to say.
(Times. Independent. Guardian. Telegraph.)

The main amusement appears to be coming via Bill Rammell's comments about some humanities degrees, which the papers seem to consider something close to high treason. Perhaps if he'd used media studies as an example (which has also fallen), they'd have praised him?

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Graduate Salaries - The Summary

So, the dust is now settling, and here are the figures.

High Fliers survey
: Average salary £23,000

Incomes Data Services: Average salary £21,688

Association of Graduate Recruiters: Average salary £23,000

So, they all say more or less the same thing, so they must all be reasonably accurate, right?


They're all measuring pretty much the same organisations - large, London-based blue-chip employers, mainly in financial services and management consultancy, with a smattering of the largest Milk Round recruiters added in.

They represent about one in ten of the jobs that this years' graduates will actually be doing when they leave university, and don't cover, to give some examples of important employers, much in the way of employers in the media, sciences, local government, social and welfare professions, medical professions, IT or education. Because of their extreme bias towards jobs in London, they are also effectively representing London salaries.

They aren't bad surveys in and of themselves (although they're generally badly reported), it is just that they are misrepresented as being definitive and representative. This leads to the majority of graduates wondering why they aren't getting paid £23,000, and to non-graduates bearing very little sympathy for graduates who do suffer financial trouble. They also give the impression that 'good' graduates aspire to the jobs covered by these surveys and that those earning less than these figures have failed in some way.

They need to be reported better.

Oh, the average salary for a new graduate from 2004 was £17,029.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Graduate Salaries, Part Three

The Association of Graduate Recruiters survey is now out, as everyone who enjoyed this morning's balanced and temperate Times headlines will now realise.

The survey had been conducted by High Fliers for some time, but Hobsons have now taken it over - High Fliers responded by publishing a very similar survey last month anyway.

This one polls 222 organisations (largely blue-chip and London-based, and fewer than last year), and asks them how they see their hiring intentions this year. They largely come back very positive, with a large rise in vacancies, and a modest predicted rise in starting salaries to an average of £23,000, up from £22,000 this time last year.

What has fuelled some of the shriller headlines is the finding that some employers have had trouble filling positions over the last 12 months. Some of it is because applicants don't have 'the right skills', and some because of 'graduates' perception of the industry sector', which is an interesting one. This happened last year as well, although the survey at the time didn't say which organisations had trouble.

The other thing that has caused wailing from some quarters is the announcement that average salaries for the public sector are up 9.8%. The AGR survey is not strong on the public sector - last year's survey covered 12 whole public sector organisations, including one of this year's big (and high-paying) graduate recruiters - The Army (who have been advertising very heavily for graduate recruits this year). This makes me suspect that all we're seeing there is a reflection of an increased hiring regime by the Armed Forces.

At the time of writing, the survey's not available online, so I haven't read it - more when I have.

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Friday, February 03, 2006

International Perceptions of UK Research in Physics and Astronomy

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The second Review of International Perceptions of UK Research in Physics and Astronomy (warning: PDF) - the first since 2000 - came out last week. PPARC, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), along with the Institute of Physics and the Royal Astronomical Society, were involved in commissioning and sponsoring the report.

The review is generally rather positive about the UK standing internationally, noting that we have excellence in a number of fields. But we're interested in the labour market aspects of the report, and there are some rather less positive words there.

Firstly, there is a concern that the UK PhD is currently too short by comparison to postgradauate degrees in physics from other countries (not too long, as the Guardian mystifyingly concludes). Students are feeling undertrained compared to, for example, their German counterparts. The Review suggests 4 year funding for PhDs as a consequence.

Secondly, the plight of postdocs is yet again highlighted, along with the observation that nothing has changed since 2000. The review takes the view that
'the situation of the perennial PDRA, going from one short-term contract to another, with the associated uncertainty is not the ideal environment in which to nurture young academic talent'
a statement with which it is very hard to disagree. But they accept that there is no easy solution, and suggest that postdocs might look to work elsewhere in the EU to gain vital experience.

Thirdly, the panel is very concerned about the teaching of physics and mathematics in schools, and fears that barriers are being placed to students who wish to study physics at university. This is having a knock-on effect on universities, and they lament that the the finances of university departments are so heavily tied to undergraduate numbers, disadvantaging physics further.

That said, there are positives. Although the number of women in the discipline is still very low, successful steps are being taken to increase the level of female participation - though the numbers still fall far short of the ideal.

The conclusion is that we do still do world class physics in many parts of the UK, but this is all under threat if we do not get more young people to study in physics, and to stay in physics - and that will not happen just through wishful thinking.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Graduate Salary Data, Part 2

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This time of year is the Time Of The Salary Survey. First, we had a survey from High Fliers. Now, it's time for Incomes Data Services to publish their annual winter round-up. They say that the average starting salary for graduates with a "top degree" was £21,415 in 2005 and was expected to rise to £21,688 this year, and that graduates employed three years ago were now earning around £32,000.

Of course, all the provisos I mentioned for the High Fliers survey apply equally for IDS. This survey deals with companies which are predominantly London-based financial services organisations, and as such do not represent the large majority of graduate employers. Next week, the triumvirate will be completed as the Association of Graduate Recruiters release their own survey, which will say almost exactly the same thing, and thus reinforce false perceptions of what graduates ought to expect to earn when they leave university.

These surveys are interesting, but they are a small part of the picture.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Now it's the turn of social sciences

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The THES is reporting (don't know how long this link will stay for), that university social sciences are facing a staffing crisis, according to a report to be published by the ESRC in February. Many senior social sciences are due to retire soon, and many staff in practise-based discipline came straight from the workplace, and lack research and especially statistical skills that are learnt during a PhD.

More on this when the report is out.

It's now out - see this post for details

Friday, January 27, 2006

Science Teachers

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The DfES report on science teaching in secondary schools has had a lot of coverage this week. Here's a link, but beware - it's 288 pages long.

19% of school science teachers are trained in physics and 25% are trained in chemistry. Over a quarter of 11-16 schools do not have any teachers from a physics background, and one in eight have no chemists. By far the commonest subject for science teachers is biology - which has increasing numbers of graduates. There is clearly a mechanism at work here that disfavours budding physicists and chemists.

One very interesting possible explanation for the low numbers of prospective teachers is given right at the end, in Appendix 4.2, page 268. There, the average salaries of various science teachers against the average graduate salaries in each government office region is examined. Except in London, the South East and the Eastern region (all of which are distorted by the London graduate labour market), teachers earn a higher average salary than graduates. But non-teaching biologists earn lower than teaching biologists in almost all regions, rendering teaching a financially attractive option. Chemists and physicists, however, get a higher average salary than biologists, and so in most regions they can earn more by not teaching.

There are other issues around gender (it is no coincidence that biology is also the only science subject with more woman graduates than men), and they all seem to tie together. But one thing seems clear - unless something is done, the teaching of physics and chemistry will continue to be undertaken by teachers with no more than A-level qualifications in the subject.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Could Fees Harm Basic Courses?

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A report in the Guardian today suggests that basic courses in the sciences, engineering and languages could have real problems recruiting students with the introduction of top-up fees.

The research has been conducted by the Institute of Education at the University of London, on behalf of the DfES, although it does not yet appear to be available (and this report comes billed as written by 'agencies', which rings certain alarms). But without the survey to hand, the piece seems a bit woolly.

We're told that the survey involved 'in-depth interviews with staff at 15 institutions'. How many? Which institutions?

But some of the concerns are more substantial. Firstly, there is a worry that some four-year courses, which include engineering, for example, may become less popular with the increased debt that will ensue. That's a good point, although it does neglect the fact that many engineering courses are associated with very positive employment outcomes, and that may act as an attractor.

Secondly, there seems to be a fear that some courses will see a drift of Scottish students to English universities who have anticipated problems and offered bursaries. Now, it's never been seen as a problem that bright Scottish students might want to go to Oxford or Cambridge, so this seems an odd time to start worrying about it.

Thirdly, and another excellent point, is that fees will probably kill dead the idea of students studying for leisure purposes. No real adult debate has ever taken place over what the Government thinks university is for, but this seems to nail that debate flat.

Once the survey comes out, we'll be able to get a better picture of what's actually being said in it, and it will be good to see how much is new and innovative.

Monday, January 23, 2006

National Student Survey hits the rocks

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The National Student Survey (NSS) looks to be in trouble as, following the examples of Oxford, Cambridge and Warwick last year, a whole tranche of university student unions have concluded that they don't fancy taking part this year.

There is a worry amongst that students are getting surveyed an awful lot these days, but at the same time, some universities may not be wholly unhappy at the idea that their students might not be going public with their views on administration and teaching this year.

Certainly, it seems the survey needs to be re-examined, but it remains to be seen whether a National Student Survey will ever be fully subscribed.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Students not so keen on the capital

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A Capital One survey of 1000 new graduates published this week found that only one in five wanted a job based in London. The cost of living in the capital is cited as the main factor.

Now, the usual disclaimers about a biased survey from a small sample apply, but the difference is that this time the survey is actually backed by other findings elsewhere.

Analysis of this year's Destination of Leavers of Higher Education Survey finds that only 18.7% of employed graduates were working in London six months after graduating. Whilst London is a lure to many graduates, the myth that everyone wants to (or has to) work there is just that - a myth. As previous research from Graduate Prospects shows, there are opportunities for graduates around the country, and young graduates do move in search of them - and not always to London.

So although this survey may have statistical holes, it does back up something that has already been shown elsewhere. Many, if not most graduates don't want to have to work in London, no matter if that's where the highest salaries are to be found. Money isn't everything.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Public sector employment up

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The Office of National Statistics have released their quarterly update on public sector employment. In the year ending September 2005, UK public sector employment rose by 72,000, which is a substantial rise but a reduction in the rate of increase. 5,826,000 people now work in the public sector in the UK. The main areas on the increase were health and social work, up 45,000 and education, up 25,000. Civil Service employment was down 3,000. Construction and HM Forces also saw a reduction in employment.

Outside the capital, the public sector is much the most significant graduate employer, so changes in public sector employment are always important to the UK graduate labour market. As of June 2005, one in five workers in the UK was employed by the public sector.

Also this weblog, Summa cum laude, written by Iain MacLaren, the Director of the Centre for Excellence in Learning at NUI Galway, is well worth reading for an update on Irish HE, as well as an examination of events of significance to the international HE community.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Graduate job market 'on the rise'

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This time around, a positive story about graduate jobs.

The Graduate Market survey of employers by High Fliers (I'd link to their web site, but it has been under construction for months) found an 11% rise in job vacancies, a whole swathe of employers looking to take more new graduates on this year, and average salaries of £23,000. Sounds great!

Alas, it is another very selective and misleading survey. High Fliers have interviewed a small range of very large 'blue chip', London-based companies, mainly in the financial sector, and which will account for less than 10% of total vacancies available. This is great news if you want to be an accountant, but if you want to be a scientist, or work in the media, or don't want to work in London, or fall into any one of a number of categories that make up the bulk of the graduate population, then this report does not mean a great deal to you.

What this kind of survey does do is gives graduates an unrealistic expectation of their potential starting salaries. These are the top-paying jobs that are likely to be available, by and large, in 2006. If you don't want to do these jobs, don't expect to get paid as much as this. And don't feel like a failure if you don't take one of these jobs. They're not the kind of job that anyone will thrive in. They're not even the kind of job that a lot of people who do take them will thrive in. They are often very stressful, long hour jobs, and other employers that pay less can provide other benefits that many consider worth the lower salary.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

IT graduates unhappy with UK courses

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46 per cent of recent IT graduates feel that their courses didn't provide them with relevant skills, according to a story which is doing the rounds.

This does not look at all good, and some of the complaints sound very concerning: those surveyed did not feel they were properly trained in Java or .NET, and 41 per cent said that they ought not to have gone to university at all.

Of course, this is another example of a survey that does not do what the writers suggest it does.

Let's take a look at the sample. 500 graduates, all of whom are users of That's out of a graduating cohort last year of 16,220. Or, if you'd prefer, 3% of last year's IT graduates. They're all, also, signed up to a job-seekers board (an American one as well!), which means that what we have here is an immediate case of a biased sample. People who are seeking work are very likely either not to be working, or in jobs that make them unsatisfied. They are therefore far more likely to be unhappy with their degree, since they aren't doing the work that they wanted to be doing. That doesn't make them representative of anything other than unhappy IT graduates - indeed, with that in mind, I'm surprised only 46% were unhappy with their degree.

Then, let's take a look at the organisation who conducted the poll, FDM. They're, surprise, surprise, an IT training organisation, with an academy where consultants are trained in....hmmm....Java and .NET.

In other words, we have a vested interest conducting a survey on a biased, small sample of IT graduates and then bartering that up into an indictment of the UK university system. Whilst there is some valid information in there (if important commercial skills are not being properly taught, that is an issue), it is lost in the general statistical meaninglessness of the story, and exacerbated by an accusatory tone that is not justified by the data.

This should not obscure some issues with IT graduates. They do still have an unacceptably high unemployment rate on graduating (over 10%), and it's clear that many do have a lot of trouble finding work. But let's have some proper evidence.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

UK graduate earnings

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Last time, I looked at basic salary figures. So how do UK graduate salaries stack up overall against non-graduate wages?

The OECD this year calculated the returns of an average graduate from tertiary education in the UK to be 62% over the salary they would have earnt without their degree - so for those with upper secondary qualifications - with only the US and Hungary (we overtook Finland this year) higher. It's even bigger if you're a woman. Here it is, from 'Education At A Glance' - you want table A9.1a, and here are the instructions for those data tables.

Using different stats, the DfES calculated this graduate premium at around 43% in early 2005. This is a slight drop on earlier figures, and the Class of '99 research also suggests that the premium is coming down, but slowly.

So next time a newspaper article tells us it's not worth getting a degree, bear this in mind.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Some basic stats on graduate salaries

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Since there's a lot of confusion about what graduates in the UK (or indeed anyone) actually earn, let's take a look at what's out there.

Let's kick off with the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE), the Government's own salary survey.

There was a bit of a hiccup this year when they had to reissue part of the data, but that's by the by. According to the ASHE, the mean, annual, gross salary in the UK in 2005 was £23,400.

OK, so there is the average UK wage, which does include all part-time workers and so on.

Now, let's look at the 2005 Destinations of Leavers of Higher Education Survey by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, which polled all leavers of first degrees in 2004. They found the average starting salary for graduates 6 months after graduating (in other words, at the start of 2005) was £17,029

Ok, so that's much lower than the national average. But then does anyone really expect 21 year olds to earn above the national average?

Let's move on to Professor Peter Elias and Professor Kate Purcell again. From the Class of 99 research I mentioned earlier in the week, they found that the mean salary of graduates from 1999 had reached £23,754 in 2003/4 - in other words, 3 and a half years after graduating, a typical graduate was already earning above the current national average wage. (The information's on page 105, if you want to look it up).

But the question remains difficult to answer. If anyone asks me 'what's the average salary for a graduate?', I can point at some rather old research from Graduate Prospects based on the old Labour Force Survey, showing the average weekly graduate salary was £605 between 2001 and 2002, but beyond that, there's not a lot about the whole population, or even large groups of it. Graduate Prospects' Labour Market FAQs can help with some of these questions, but if anyone tells you how much a graduate earns, I'd ask them some very searching questions about their data. And if it sounds good, let me know, because we can always use good salary data.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Are Fees Deterring Students?

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Obviously, tuition fees are controversial. And one of the main questions is: "Are students from non-traditional backgrounds deterred from study by the prospect of debt"

Thus we have this piece in the Guardian.

This quotes from a survey of 1000 careers advisers conducted by the marketing agency, Heist, which states that 30% of advisers had received no information from universities about the bursaries they had on offer, and also quotes from their own survey of advisers at 30 FE colleges, for whom 40% felt that the new system would lead to a drop in applications.

Hang on.

So, the Heist survey says nothing about the number of people expected to go to university (more on this later), and less than half of the Guardian's own survey sample said the same thing? Is there any substance to this story?

And here is where the problems are. The Heist survey is currently unpublished, although, conveniently, the Guardian has read it. In October, Heist had issued this proposal for a follow-up survey to the one quoted in this article. In it they say that 'three quarters of respondents predicted a decrease in the numbers entering higher education in 2005'.
This claim is not qualified, as it is in the Guardian article, which admits that, "A drop in numbers is widely expected because of a large increase in applications last year", and by itself is hardly a deeply damaging claim if demographics is a significant factor.

So, let's look at the Guardian's survey. Fewer than half their respondents from 30 colleges felt that the new system was deterring applicants (even I think that seems rather low!). And that's all we know about it.

Thus we get a news story based on two unpublished surveys, one at least 3 months old, asking different people unknown questions and coming up with no firm conclusions - or at least, nothing yet published.

The irony is that there is evidence, from Professor Peter Elias and Professor Kate Purcell's Class of '99 research, that the widening participation agenda is not working as planned, and any good information about the impact of tuition fees will help every
one concerned improve the current provision. I look forward to the full Heist and Guardian research reports to help with that.