It’s time to be responsible student recruiters

Giving students the time and space to make informed decisions about where to study will set them up for success on their educational journey, says Christina Edgar

August 16, 2018
How to choose a subject at university

Clearing and adjustment has changed dramatically. Gone are the days when it was perceived as a stressful scramble for places among heavy-hearted students who had missed the grade to meet their university offer.

Now, clearing and adjustment marks a fantastic opportunity. For those savvy students keen to shop around and ensure that they are making the best choice before embarking on the next three to four years of their life, this period is now seen as simply a late application window.

It offers them the chance to look at different courses, revisit original Ucas choices and even “trade up” to a better-ranked university if they have done better than expected in their exams.

And that is not the only change. With a demographic dip in the number of 18-year-olds leading to fewer students applying to university – combined with the fact that places on hundreds of courses across the UK are still “up for grabs” and universities are all competing for talented students who will thrive on their courses – it is a really great year for student choice.

Students in clearing and adjustment now have a lot of power when it comes to deciding where to study – and I think they are beginning to realise this.

Many students believe that they have to accept the first offer they receive through clearing and adjustment, usually out of a fear of being left with nothing. They do not realise that the process of changing their mind does not have to be, and should not be, a mad rush. And for a decision as big as mapping out the next few years of their lives, being expected to decide under intense pressure is just unfair.

This is why I want to call on us, as universities, to act as responsible recruiters. The truth is that students will, more often than not, have longer than they might think to decide whether to take up their offer of a place, and it is up to us to make that clear to them.

Clearing and adjustment is not really about students scrambling to get places any more – it is now about universities competing for the best students.

So we need to make sure that we do not pressure students at a time when they might be feeling vulnerable and instead give them breathing space to do their research and ensure that they are happy with the choice they are making.

For us at the University of Sheffield, students are always given the opportunity to sleep on their decision and come back to us – we want them to be confident that they are making the right choice for them.

This is crucial, and we encourage students to use that time wisely by researching the university, speaking to friends and family, chatting to our current students (on the phone or online) and even visiting us to get a first-hand feel for our campus and accommodation.

Some universities – Sheffield included – also offer all students who come through clearing and adjustment ”guaranteed accommodation”. But how many allow clearing students to visit this accommodation before accepting a place?

Where a student lives can be pivotal in terms of their enjoyment of their time at university and their ability to settle in, so it is an important consideration.

The benefits of universities being responsible recruiters are not just for students. Universities themselves stand to gain a lot from relieving the pressure. Surely a student who has made a careful, informed decision and chosen to study a course and at an institution that is the right fit for them is a far better “recruit” than someone who has felt pressured to make a decision and later struggles or even drops out after discovering it was not the place for them.

So this clearing and adjustment cycle, I’m calling on universities to lead by example. Let’s think carefully about the sort of environment we’re creating for our potential students and work together to provide them with the time and the opportunities that they need to inform their choice.

But this needs to be a group effort. We’re fighting a losing battle at Sheffield if more universities don’t follow suit. Our responsible recruiter ethos will be in vain if other institutions are pushing students to make quick decisions.

I know I’m not alone in my desire for the sector to re-evaluate the traditional “hard sell” that can take hold in August and create a more positive landscape for student choice. So let’s pave the way together.

Christina Edgar is director of student recruitment and admissions at the University of Sheffield.

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