Russell Group universities battle for best students

The UK’s leading universities are increasingly adopting new tactics to secure applications from the most academically accomplished students in the world.

As reported in last week’s The Student, since the Coalition Government’s change to admission policies in August 2014, universities are able to admit an unlimited number of students achieving ABB and above at A-level, or equivalent.

This has opened up a wealth of opportunities for high-achieving students who arguably have a greater choice than ever in terms of applications to higher-education institutions.In order to attract these students, Russell Group universities in particular are exploring new persuasive methods, albeit mainly financial, in the hope that their high academic reputation can be retained or increased.

Research conducted by BiGGAR Economics shows that, over the next four years, £9 billion is to be invested in the improvement of academic and residential facilities across the 24 Russell Group universities.

This is roughly equivalent to the cost of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Particular areas for academic investment include science and technology as well as 12 new medical research projects nationwide, according to BiGGAR Economics.

Alongside these investments, leading universities have been attempting to attract the brightest students with the incentive of financial assistance. Academic scholarships are becoming an increasingly popular way of enticing students. Institutions such as The University of Liverpool, which pledges to give £2,500 to international students on non-clinical courses achieving AAB in A-level exams or an equivalent qualification, are progressively putting aside large quantities of money for this purpose.

Likewise, The University of Glasgow, another Russell Group member, is offering students attaining AAA in their A-levels £1,000 for every year they study as an undergraduate at the university from September 2015. The head of one leading university told The Guardian: “We think we may have suffered because a certain number of people are being won over with scholarships. Even sums as small as £500 seem to work.”

Queen’s University Belfast have already gone one step further, however, by promising high-achieving English students three free flights home and free sports membership for each year of study, plus a free bedding and kitchen pack at one of its accommodation facilities and free shipping of personal luggage in the first year.

Similarly, The University of Birmingham has teamed up with Premier League football club, Aston Villa, to offer £1,200 per year of study to students who participate in the ‘Villa in the Community’ scheme; an initiative which aims to organise sporting-related projects for the local area.

Whilst these creative techniques may appeal to students, many university leaders are deeply concerned about what the future holds for the British academic system.

Another Vice-Chancellor condemned the practice of using cash incentives to entice students:

“This is something demeaning and outside the value set of what a university should be about […] coming and doing a degree is not just a retail offer.

“It is something higher than that, and prostituting oneself in this way degrades the whole experience.”

Changes to academics’ pensions alongside the rejection of pay rises of one per cent by UK academics, who claimed that their pay had decreased by up to 13 per cent since 2009, led to industrial action by the UCU last October.

However, they were called off after last-minute talks between academics’ unions and employers.

 

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