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Education in the media: 17 August 2016

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Exams and qualifications, Higher Education, Universities

Today’s news review looks at coverage of the National Union of Students survey about student earnings, Russell Group comments on the decoupling of AS and A levels and university offering incentives.

Student earnings

Today, 17 August, the National Union of Students (NUS) released a survey of students which claims that 47% of graduates from 2015 have moved back in with their parents. The NUS suggests that this is a result of the impact of student debt and low earnings. The report cites other findings including 76% of graduates worry about their student debt and 46% of students have accumulated additional debt since graduating.

This featured on the front page of today’s Independent and in the Times.

However, we have made clear that:

  • Graduates pay back their loans at a rate of 9% of earnings above £21,000, meaning repayments are proportional to earnings, not debt levels
  • The National Student Survey 2016, which interviews over 300,000 students, showed that 86% were satisfied with their course.
  • We are increasing the overall cash in hand we provide students to support the cost of living by a maximum of £766 to £8,200 a year for students from low household incomes, studying away from home, outside London – the highest ever amount.
  • The new Teaching Excellence Framework will ensure that universities are assessed on measures like student feedback and graduate outcomes. Universities will only be able to raise fees by a maximum of the rate of inflation, and only if they meet these measures. Universities which fail to meet them will not be able to raise fees.

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

Graduates continue to enjoy higher employment rates and an average £9,500 annual earnings premium compared to non-graduates. As the OECD has recognised, our student funding system is sustainable, supporting our world-class universities while ensuring graduates only pay back when they are earning above £21,000.


We know there is still more to be done to address variability in graduate earnings – which is exactly why we are reforming the system through measures such as our Teaching Excellence Framework, which will incentivise all universities to raise the quality of their teaching and focus on improving graduate outcomes.

Decoupling of AS and A levels

Today, 17 August, the Telegraph and Daily Mail ran a story based on Russell Group claims that the decoupling of AS and A levels means universities have less concrete information regarding pupils results and, as such, more are considering following Cambridge’s lead and having entrance exams.

The decoupling of AS and A levels  will end the routine, automatic external assessment of students at the end of Year 12 that places unnecessary burdens on students and teachers, and will allow for more time to be spent on teaching and learning.

School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said:

The changes to AS and A Levels give students the time to develop the knowledge and understanding they need to master their subject without the sixth form years being dominated by continual exams. This is precisely what universities have been asking for.


Admissions arrangements are a matter for each university but we are confident that they will recognise the new suite of GCSEs, AS and A levels as the gold standard for admissions.

University incentives

This morning Radio 4’s Today programme ran a discussion about university competitiveness. This featured two vice chancellors – Dominic Shellard of De Montfort University and Sir David Phoenix of London South Bank University.

The discussion focused on various incentives reportedly being offered to students, such as football tickets. Both chancellors maintained that the most important factor for students is the quality of education offered and reputation of the establishment – not any additional incentives offered.

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

We want universities to be responsive to their students and to create a higher education market which offers students choice and incentivises universities to offer high quality teaching.


Our reforms will ensure that all universities are assessed on the quality of their teaching and student outcomes. In a more competitive higher education market we are providing students with greater choice and more information to make informed choices on the best course for them.

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