The UK: A System in Flux

by David Hawkins
Head of Careers, Taunton School 

The British Higher Education system used to be straightforward, certainly for those like me working in British schools and who attended a UK university. However, recent changes in government policy have made steps towards creating a market for university places, with this to change yet further in future years. Though some of my colleagues across the UK find this all quite worrying, for those of us working on an international stage it simply brings the UK into line with the rest of the world. So, from a British counsellor’s perspective here are the key changes to be aware of.

Number Controls

Until recently the British government restricted the number of EU and UK students each university could take, meaning that universities had to make little or no effort to recruit as, at the top end, they were always oversubscribed. In 2012 students with A Levels (or equivalent) of AAB or better were taken out of this, with this moving to ABB for 2013. From 2015 there will be no controls whatsoever, with universities able to accept as many students as they want. This has forced universities to look much more at marketing, outreach and yield with students now in demand.


A consequence of this has been a rise (from almost nowhere) in the inducements available to students for choosing a university, with scholarships, better accommodation and even unconditional offers now being handed out by many universities. Students might now choose a lower-ranked university who are offering them a discount on tuition or consider applying somewhere which might make them an unconditional offer, when before they would never even have thought of applying to that institution.


Linking to this is the idea of UCAS Adjustment, a little understood process which can work in student’s favour and help out a counsellor dealing with overly ambitious parents. Adjustment allows students who do better than their predictions to contact universities on results days and see if they might take them, despite not applying in the first place, crucially without losing their confirmed UCAS place first. The over-ambitious student who is convinced that they will do better than predicted can be reassured that there is still an option if they are correct, yet still make realistic applications in the first place.

Specialist Providers

A final trend which has come about is the entry into the market of specialist courses, looking to carve out a niche in this changing world. Places like the Edge Hotel School in Essex, the New College of the Humanities in London or the sponsored degrees linked to EY, KPMG and British Airways give students a wealth of opportunities which didn’t exist only a few years ago.

It is an exciting time to be working in this world and to be able to reassure students and colleagues that the complexity which is entering our market is a good thing. In the years to come I can see the UK ‘careers adviser’ model becoming much closer to the US idea of a college counsellor, as we look for ‘fit’ as opposed to the simple metric of “have you got the right predicted grades?” This, as far as I am concerned, is a very good thing indeed.

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