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Inequality growing in access to UK universities

January 11th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

According to Times Higher Education: “The gap between university entry rates for the most advantaged and disadvantaged students is wider than previously thought, and progress in closing it has halted.” They report that “Research by Ucas indicates that the most privileged school leavers may be three times more likely to enter higher education than the least privileged.” This is far higher than previous analysis has suggested. Using a measure based on local socio economic data, gender, ethnicity and eligibility for free school meals, the study found that only 14 per cent of the least advantaged group entered higher education in 2015, compared with the 18 per cent figure 45.3 per cent of the most advantaged groups.

These findings are hardly surprising. Amongst all the different measures of predictive achievement, social class remains the most compelling. And with inequality in income and standard of living growing rapidly in the UK, it is hardly surprising that inequality in access to higher education is also growing. It  may also be considered that £9000 annual tuition fees may also be a disincentive to the ‘least advantaged’, even when the carrot of the so called graduate premium is dangled before them

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    A National Survey fin Wales in 2017-18 showed that 15% of adults (aged 16 and over) in Wales do not regularly use the internet. However, this figure is much higher (26%) amongst people with a limiting long-standing illness, disability or infirmity.

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    Zero Hours Contracts

    Figures from the UK Higher Education Statistics Agency show that in total almost 11,500 people – both academics and support staff – working in universities on a standard basis were on a zero-hours contract in 2017-18, out of a total staff head count of about 430,000, reports the Times Higher Education.  Zero-hours contract means the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours

    Separate figures that only look at the number of people who are employed on “atypical” academic contracts (such as people working on projects) show that 23 per cent of them, or just over 16,000, had a zero-hours contract.


    Resistance decreases over time

    Interesting research on student centered learning and student buy in, as picked up by an article in Inside Higher Ed. A new study published in PLOS ONE, called “Knowing Is Half the Battle: Assessments of Both Student Perception and Performance Are Necessary to Successfully Evaluate Curricular Transformation finds that student resistance to curriculum innovation decreases over time as it becomes the institutional norm, and that students increasingly link active learning to their learning gains over time


    Postgrad pressure

    Research published this year by Vitae and the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) and reported by the Guardian highlights the pressure on post graduate students.

    “They might suffer anxiety about whether they deserve their place at university,” says Sally Wilson, who led IES’s contribution to the research. “Postgraduates can feel as though they are in a vacuum. They don’t know how to structure their time. Many felt they didn’t get support from their supervisor.”

    Taught students tend to fare better than researchers – they enjoy more structure and contact, says Sian Duffin, student support manager at Arden University. But she believes anxiety is on the rise. “The pressure to gain distinction grades is immense,” she says. “Fear of failure can lead to perfectionism, anxiety and depression.”


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