2022 Spring Term 1

The know zone

  • The journey to a million
    With UCAS forecasting one million undergraduate applicants by 2025, Kevin Gilmartin examines what this might mean for our school and college leavers over the next few years. More
  • All change for FE?
    Dr Anne Murdoch says government proposals for funding and accountability changes in FE are welcome, but they mustn't fall short of what's required. More
  • Climate change
    Hayley Dunn highlights the key initiatives in the government's new Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy for Education. More
  • Stay out of trouble
    Jacques Szemalikowski urges members to check their pension statements and pay any taxes if they breach their annual pension allowance. More
  • Words of wisdom
    We often try to share a few wise words of wisdom with you - sometimes to help inspire you and at times, just to keep you going. Here, ASCL members share sayings, quotes, and prayers that help them get through life. More
  • May the force be with you
    Deputy Headteacher, Jo Rowley says ASCL Council offers great, nationwide networking opportunities as well as the chance to debate and reflect on the latest issues. Here, she shares her passion for Council and her encounter with Darth Vader. More
  • The gripes of wrath
    Along with death and taxes, the only other certainty in life is that you'll receive annoyingly unreasonable complaints, says Carl Smith, who has put together this guide to help you deal with them (not that he's grumbling about things, you understand). More
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With UCAS forecasting one million undergraduate applicants by 2025, Kevin Gilmartin examines what this might mean for our school and college leavers over the next few years.

The journey to a million

What is the background? 

Around 750,000 undergraduate applications are processed by UCAS every year. This seems a huge amount, yet UCAS has set itself goals to expand this further – one million by 2025. Demographic growth in the 16–19 age group will account for some of this but where are the other applications going to come from? And if this does transpire, how will this affect schools and colleges, and our students? 

Where will the growth in applicants come from? 

Degree apprenticeships are becoming increasingly popular – after all what is there not to like about a guaranteed job, payment while you are studying and zero student debt? However, applying for a degree apprenticeship is not currently done through UCAS. Sometimes it is done through an employer, sometimes through an apprenticeship service and sometimes directly to the university itself. It is highly competitive and far from straightforward. UCAS is very keen to ‘own’ this space. Currently, it offers a career finder tool where apprenticeships are advertised, but little more. UCAS is looking to have a one-stop shop, a transparent portal for degree apprenticeship applications, and this should be welcomed by schools and colleges.

While it is likely that school and college leavers will continue to form the majority of undergraduate applicants, adult applications have also increased in recent years as job vacancies have fallen. However, current trend data shows that, as the economy recovers, mature applicants who had applied to HE are not converting to enrolments (presumably they are gaining employment instead, although enrolments on nursing degrees from mature applicants continue to flourish). Of course, this means these degrees are becoming that much more competitive for inexperienced 18 year-olds applying straight from school and college (making voluntary work experience even more of a necessity for sixth formers – Covid barriers notwithstanding).

International student numbers are also expected to rise. International growth might seem surprising, given Brexit and the fall off in European applicants, however, UCAS sees this as a temporary situation and applicants from countries outside of Europe are on the increase (China, India and the USA in particular).

What role does the government play? 

Many universities complain about a lack of investment from the government, resulting in them needing to top up their students’ tuition fees. With the increased numbers UCAS is referring to, the HE sector is perhaps rightly nervous about where the additional funding might come from. 

But what is clear is that there is a new government focus on technical education, promoting the skills and training in occupational areas that will make UK PLC more competitive on the international stage. This seems to offer an exciting role for FE colleges – after all, technical qualifications are their natural core business. They are looking forward to more Level 4–6 qualifications being created with renewed government promotion, investment and funding. It is forcing many universities to refocus their offer towards higher technical as opposed to academic qualifications. For school and college leavers to be able to access these programmes, students and teachers need to know about them. Better Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance (CEIAG) is therefore a necessary cornerstone of this policy. Having UCAS provide a seamless process for accessing traditional academic and new technical qualifications, at both HE and FE institutions, is equally vital. 

What does the immediate future hold? 

A HE white paper is in the pipeline. Perhaps this will tie many of these thorny issues together, including perhaps any proposals for a new UCAS application system (the so-called post-qualification admissions (PQA) model). 

The introduction of T levels and the knock-on consequences around the proposed defunding of BTECs will also be significant. The present one-year push-back of the defunding timeline is only a temporary respite. The HE sector will be significantly affected if hundreds of thousands of students, who would have previously had BTEC qualifications, no longer apply to university (especially as many universities have reserved judgement about accepting T level students on to undergraduate courses). 

So, whether UCAS’s vision of a million applications per year turns out to be more of a dream will no doubt become clearer over the next year or so, but what seems certain is that it will be a bumpy road at best.

Kevin Gilmartin
ASCL Post-16 and College Specialist