Tag Archives: university

The cost of university

costHigher Education is changing.  It is no longer a given that young people will look to universities in this country as a default position for their future.  The increasing cost of a degree has inevitably made those seeking the best HE option also seeking the best value for money. 

A piece in The Sunday Times confirms this shift in thinking. It reports that there are signs this country’s universities are becoming part of a global rather than national offering.  The most recent ranking of world universities placed only Oxford and Cambridge in the top 10 universities internationally with 9 British universities making the top 100.  Harvard tops the rankings, illustrating the domination of American universities, so it is inevitable that students in the UK will consider their options.  After all, they are acutely conscious that we live in a globally connected world where future employment opportunities for talented graduates may well be overseas.  A 9% increase in the number of British students crossing the pond over the past 5 years is indicative of this growing interest.

In this context, I reflected on a conversation I had with a Harvard and Yale graduate who recently enjoyed the opportunity to return to a Harvard lecture hall.  Her observation? The almost factory like approach to ensuring students received the same lecture: whilst hundreds were packed into the hall, hundreds more were receiving the lecture through video link.  This was Harvard and this experience cost each student $70,000 per year.

Contrast this with the rise of MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) in the States.  This radical approach crosses social and national barriers and does not cost $70,000 per year.  Stanford, MIT and Udacity lead the way in this phenomenon. The rise of MOOC is a truly disruptive force with the potential to be a game changer.  However, as with any innovation, MOOC attracts its dissenters who are quick to see the limitations of this approach.  Pursuing a course independently, disconnected from a collegiate environment, is the antithesis of a university experience.  Dr Keith Devlin, a Stanford Mathematician, has delivered free courses over the past two years to 1000s of people across the world. As such, his observation about MOOC is instructive: “What is becoming clear is that evaluating MOOCs in terms of traditional higher education will prove to be about as useful — and just as misleading — as the early twentieth century pundits who thought of the first automobiles as “horseless carriages.”

So the future of HE promises to be a fragmented offering.  Arguably the level of fees set at UK universities where virtually every institution charges the same, irrespective of what they offer, is not sustainable.   And with universities such as Maastricht boasting modest fees of £1,600 per year seeing an 80% rise in British students, the financial imperative is hugely important in decision making.

What is clear in this changing landscape is that we are moving from a national system where UCAS is the universal portal for application, to a multi layered matrix where the expertise offered by a UK school in supporting its students’ applications to universities overseas will be critical.  Those schools offering this guidance will therefore be well placed to support the ambitions of their students in the future.  Or of course students could enrol on a MOOC.

Students with STEM subjects increasingly in demand

Early Friday evening, whilst standing in the senior school reception area, I become aware of a steady crocodile of Year 8 students arriving at the front door with overnight cases and sleeping bags.  Initially perplexed, I quickly recollected that this was the night of the science sleepover.  Our brilliant science staff had arranged an exciting evening of science with birds of prey let loose in the hall, an amazing array of cool scientific experiments and a showing of “Up” to cap an evening of scientific fun.  Whether the girls slept is of course a moot point.

Events like this really matter.  Schools should encourage a genuine interest in science.  In today’s world, where scientific literacy is arguably as important as literacy and numeracy, students must really engage with their learning so it is learnt for life and not just for the next test.  I therefore applaud the opening of the new Science Centre in Jesus Lane with a brief to offer science outreach to schools.  In a city with a global reputation for scientific innovation and more Nobel Prize winners than you can shake a stick at, it seems wholly appropriate that schools should enjoy access to a dedicated resource designed to enhance learning in science.

This imperative is of course part of a broader educational issue. Here in Cambridge where Silicon Fenenjoys a symbiotic relationship with the university, there is a real emphasis on STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  And the entrepreneurs who imagine our future are greedy for young talent; their problem is that not enough young people are interested.  An interesting statistic for me relates to the number of women who enter careers in STEM.  As STEM careers outpace job growth in all other industries, women hold only 17% of jobs in science and technology in the UK – a figure decreasing yearly. Given that 80% of jobs in the next decade are likely to require significant technical skills there clearly is a crisis brewing.

Yet inspiration is at hand.  The community of entrepreneurs in Cambridge are acutely conscious that more needs to be done to encourage young people to pursue STEM subjects.  Essentially the cavalry has been called in aka Silicon Valley Comes to the UK (SVC2UK).  For the last two years successful entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley in the States have come over en masse to visit schools – they also squeeze in trips to Downing Street and Cambridge University.  Their mission?: to unlock the mystery of entrepreneurship to a British audience and the vital importance of STEM.

We are delighted that our school has enjoyed visits from a range of hugely successful and interesting entrepreneurs.  The most recent visit is captured in a film produced by SVC2UK:  http://youtube.com/watch?v=ec7IGJsOb38i.

The visiting entrepreneurs made a huge impression on our students.  What is exciting to me is the possibility of sharing their inspiration with other schools.  This is where Sherry Coutu enters the fray @scoutu.  Sherry, a successful entrepreneur and a driving force behind SVC2UK, is determined to offer this opportunity to half a million students.  Not a woman to be daunted by a number, her team is devising a clever method of making this possible.  We are delighted that SVC2UK wants to work with The Stephen Perse Foundation in piloting this scheme.  My role is to act as an ambassador, encouraging as many schools as possible to become involved.  My twitter platform is a fantastic conduit for spreading the news.

So the challenge is clear – the gauntlet is down.  A generation of young people face a world of opportunities.  Let’s make it happen.

League tables measure; people inspire.

There has been a great deal of measuring going on this week courtesy of the DfE. By measuring of course I am referring to the school league tables which attracted the usual column inches in the press. My view of these tables is on record. School league tables are a blunt yardstick – they measure what they measure, and tell you nothing more.

A new league table entered the arena this year. This table identified the educational establishments where students achieved AAB in the facilitating subjects recognised by the elite Russell Group of Universities.  The Stephen Perse Foundation ranked very well with this measurement – we were placed a pleasing fifth in the country.  Yet by definition this table did not include our IBDP students where the average was an excellent 40 / 45 points.

If you look at the HEFCE equivalent to AAB, which is currently 35 points, then we gained a 94 per cent ‘AAB’ rate with our 2012 IB cohort. This would place us at No 1 in the Russell Group league by a wide margin.

Thought for DfE – do we now need a separate Russell Group IB league table? Or, is all this obsessing with measurement a distraction from what really matters – inspiring students to strive for a place in the educational setting of their choice?

This is the real imperative for schools today. Traditionally, guidance has focused on careers advice. Only recently I visited a class where the students were engaged in an online careers guidance exercise. One student was curious as to why she was being prompted by the virtual guidance to become a pet therapist.  Interesting but strangely random.  Although there is a place for this process, process alone can only channel, it cannot open a world of possibilities. It cannot inspire. The clarion call of the Olympics to “Inspire a Generation” served us well as a nation. It surely must be equally relevant to our schools!

The challenge facing educators today is to guide our young people towards a future where the landscape lacks the certainty of the past.  We face a future characterised by the unknowns. Therefore guidance must be harnessed to inspiration.  We are no longer merely a conduit for passing on information relating to specific career routes.  We need to offer a higher level of guidance.  In our school we have developed a programme called Inspire Me which aims to do just this.  The purpose of this ambitious programme is to invite people with interesting life stories and career paths in to school to share these with the students.

Only last week we welcomed back Old Persean, Clare Young, formerly a scientist, now a serving officer in the Metropolitan Police force.  She spoke to the school about her experiences as part of the security team which protected the Olympic torch as it traversed the country last summer.  Her fitness levels had to be extremely high as did her diplomatic skills dealing with a host of celebrities and of course the public during her travels around Britain.  How wonderful for our current cohort of students to listen to the life experiences of someone who, only 15 years ago, was a pupil at their school.  Clare hadn’t imagined she would play her role in an historic sporting event in this country but she was inspired to seize her opportunity.

Of course inspiration must be underpinned with excellent guidance.  An individual should shape their own aspiration and not be shaped by the aspiration of their school.  This year our students’ ambitions have been rewarded with offers from all kinds of Higher Education institutions.  Whilst 30% have Oxbridge offers, others hold offers from a whole host of universities for an extraordinary range of subjects.  Still pending is a Skype interview for a Liberal Arts course in Maastricht, an application to Military Academies in the United States and a much prized place on a midwifery course (bumped into the student in Waitrose who tells me her interview is soon, so best of luck!).

If you want to find out more about our guidance in the sixth form here is the link to the relevant section of our website:


I started by referencing league tables – I should like to conclude by noting a rather bizarre feature of the GCSE league tables. Even though our school boasted GCSE examination results which ranked amongst the best in the country we don’t appear at all in this DfE measurement.  Go figure.