Universities are braced for a wave of student finance inquiries as they fill courses. Alan Thomson reports
THIS year university admissions officers dealing with clearing will be expected to answer detailed questions on the new system of student finance.
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service and the government have issued financial information to applicants, schools and colleges but this may not have reached all applicants. In addition universities are operating their own fee instalment systems.
Institutions have adopted different approaches to get across information about tuition fees and loans. Some, such as Leeds University, have taken no chances and produced their own tabloid paper, Money Matters, which was distributed to schools and prospective students. A second guide has also been issued to those accepted on to courses.
Others, such as Queen Mary Westfield College in London, have organised detailed briefings for the admissions team on funding. Huddersfield University has set up a financial hotline.
June Gosling, an admissions officer for Queen Mary and Westfield College in London for 12 years, is bracing herself. "The first week is very, very hectic. Preparation is all."
The QMW team will involve a dozen student assistants, as well as more than 50 departmental academic admissions tutors, all fully briefed.
Computer lists of vacancies and the A-level results of all applicants entered for clearing are used initially to sift applicants and match them to potential places. Offers will then be made to the applicants by phone. Students often want more information about courses and will have the chance to speak to an admissions tutor. The student then accepts or rejects the place.
This process is often completed within a day, preferably in hours. Ms Gosling said: "Because people are ringing anywhere that has a vacancy that suits them those universities that ring back the quickest usually get the student."
Lyn Harvey, admissions officer at London Guildhall, said that the admissions team dealt with 5,500 calls in the first few days after last year's A-level results day. "I do not know whether we will be busier than that this year. Tuition fees may have an effect. But early indications show that applications are up for the under-21s," she said.
The Guildhall team comprises 11 permanent staff, 11 temporary staff and about 20 telephone operators. The university has been running a telephone hotline for much of the year for students who have questions about fees and loans. It has also produced an information leaflet that it has sent to all people holding offers. Again, admissions staff have been briefed on funding issues.
Despite the concern over finance, gaining a place will be uppermost in applicants' minds. Ms Harvey said: "We have some who become really excited and happy if we offer them places and those who burst into tears if we do not. It is never easy dealing with this but we always remain sympathetic and try to reassure them that it's definitely not the end of the world."
Huddersfield is leaving student finance to the experts. The institution's special hotline connects applicants with finance officers who can answer detailed questions. University spokesman Philip Williams said: "We have gained the impression through meetings with potential applicants and their parents that people are not as clued up about fees and loans as the government would like to think."
Last year 19 per cent of Huddersfield's first-year intake was achieved through clearing. Against expectations there was no noticeable rush for places in order to beat the introduction of tuition fees. Mr Williams expects roughly the same number of applications this year. Despite lingering ignorance among many about fees, he believes that people have broadly accepted that they will have to contribute to their education.
He said: "I do not think people will be put off Huddersfield by tuition fees and debt. I think most are resigned to the fact that they are going to have to pay. The only thing we can think of is that they will go for more vocational subjects that give them a better chance of employment."
At UCAS headquarters in Cheltenham there are 150 people dedicated to admissions and clearing. The human effort is underwritten by advanced computer technology. The computer system has to be powerful and flexible enough to deal with some 2.5 million university applications (each of the 450,000 applicants applies to five institutions on average). Records are constantly updated as people are offered and accept places or decline them or otherwise change their personal details. The entire network is backed up by an external computer system in case of total breakdown.
Of the 450,000 individual applicants last year, 264,734 had their existing offers confirmed when they received their A-level results. Of the remaining 190,000, 54,401 obtained places through clearing. The 136,000 left without places may have been rejected outright or withdrew from clearing to take a year out or get a job. A total of 254 universities, colleges and higher education institutions operate through UCAS, offering just under 40,000 different courses.
EVERY year applicants and their parents amuse admissions officers with more "unusual questions" about university life. Here is a collection: * one parent asked how late her treasure would be expected to work at university each day. If it was after 6pm, she asked, would the university pay for a taxi home?
* an angler wanted toknow if, since his room was on the ground floor of the halls next to the river, he would be allowed to fish from his window * the quality of a university's library might be expected tobe a decisive factor. It was for one musically mindedapplicant who demanded to know whether the library took the New Musical Expressevery week * one soap fan was apparently basing her choice of university on whether institutions had a Brookside students society.
TIMETABLE FOR STUDENT CLEARING
August 7 - Scottish highers and certificates of sixth-year studies results are published.
August 18 or 19 - The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service sends A-level results to universities.
August 20 - A-level results published.
* students may now contact universities to confirm conditional offers.
* students holding no offers may begin to contact universities and inquire about courses. Ideally, these students should wait until the start of the following week in order to allow universities time to deal with confirmations.
* universities may make informal offers of places through clearing but must wait until students receive their clearing entry forms (CEFs) before formalising.
August 24 to 28 - most CEFs should arrive with students. CEFs are sent automatically to A-level students who do not hold offers. Included are CEF and UCAS numbers that are crucial to the clearing process.
* when a university is sure the applicant meets the requirements it will ask for their CEF.
* students should carry out all stages of clearing themselves rather than going on holiday and leaving it to parents.
* if they cannot avoid being away they should write their four choices on their CEF and send it to UCAS for central clearing.
* once the university receives the CEF it can confirm the place to UCAS, which in turn writes to confirm the place to the student.
Late September - clearing is wound up.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO GRANTS AND FEES
1. Income: Pounds 18,500 gross per annum (the national average) with one child studying at university outside London, including Scotland. No other children.
Parents' residual income - Pounds 16,000 Parents' contribution:to fees pa - Pounds 0 to maintenance pa - Pounds 0 LEA contribution: to fees - Pounds 1,000 to maintenance - Pounds 810
2. Income: Pounds 18,500 gross with wife at university outside London. No children.
Husband's residual income - Pounds 16,000 Husband's contribution:to fees - Pounds 4 to maintenance - Pounds 0 Total - Pounds 4 pa LEA contribution:to fees - Pounds 726 to maintenance - Pounds 810
3. Pounds 26,000 gross with one child at university in London. No other children.
Parents' residual income - Pounds 22,500 Parents' contribution: to fees - Pounds 498 to maintenance - Pounds 0 Total - Pounds 498 pa LEA contribution:to fees - Pounds 502 to maintenance - Pounds 1,225
4. Pounds 26,000 gross with husband at university in London and one child at school.
Wife's residual income - Pounds 22,500 Wife's contribution: to fees - Pounds 895 to maintenance - Pounds 0 Total - Pounds 895 pa LEA contribution:to fees - Pounds 105 to maintenance - Pounds 1,225
5. Pounds 35,000 gross with one child at university outside London. No other dependants.
Parents' residual income - Pounds 31,000 Parents' contribution:to fees - Pounds 1,000 to maintenance - Pounds 422 Total - Pounds 1,422 pa LEA contribution: to fees - Pounds 0 to maintenance - Pounds 388
6. Pounds 35,000 gross with two children at university outside London. No other children.
Parents' residual income - Pounds 31,000 Parents' contribution:to fees - Pounds 673 per child to maintenance - Pounds 0 Total - Pounds 1,347 pa LEA contribution:to fees - Pounds 3 per student to maintenance - Pounds 810 per student
7. Pounds 35,000 gross with two children at university in London. One child at school.
Parents' residual income - Pounds 31,000 Parents' contribution:to fees - Pounds 636 per child to maintenance - Pounds 0 Total - Pounds 1,2 pa LEA contribution: to fees - Pounds 364 per student to maintenance - Pounds 1,225 per student
9. Pounds 50,000 gross with two children at university outside London. No other children.
Parents' residual income - Pounds 45,000 Parents' contribution:to fees - Pounds 1,000 per child to maintenance - Pounds 596 per child Total - Pounds 3,192 pa LEA contribution:to fees - Pounds 0 to maintenance -Pounds 214 per student
10. Pounds 50,000 gross with wife at university outside London and two children at school.
Husband's residual income - Pounds 45,000 Husband's contribution:to fees - Pounds 1,000 to maintenance - Pounds 3,644 Total - Pounds 4,644 pa No LEA contribution to fees or maintenance
The Scottish anomaly
1. Scottish-domiciled parents with Pounds 50,000 gross and two children at a Scottish university. No other children.
Parents' residual income - Pounds 45,000 Parents' total contribution:to fees at the end of a four-year degree - Pounds 6,000 to maintenance after four years -Pounds 4,768 Total -Pounds 10,768 No LEA contribution
2. English-domiciled parents with Pounds 50,000 gross and two children at a Scottish university, No other children.
Parents' residual income - Pounds 45,000 Parents' contribution:to fees after four years - Pounds 8,000 to maintenance after four years - Pounds 4,768 Total - Pounds 12,768 No LEA contribution
The figures above are intended as a rough guide only and exclude deductions that may be available depending on individual circumstances.
PARENTAL CONTRIBUTIONS TO GRANTS AND FEES
For the academic year (1998-1999) the figures below show how much parents will be expected to pay towards tuition and living costs for children starting in higher education
residual to Total
income* fees Grant contribution
LESS THAN 16,945 0 0 0
16,945 45 0 45
18,000 126 0 126
20,000 280 0 280
22,000 443 0 443
24,000 661 0 661
26,000 878 0 878
28,000 1000 96 1096
30,000 1000 313 1313
32,500 1000 601 1601
34,000 1000 801 1801
36,000 1000 1067 2067
38,000 1000 1334 2334
Total contributions are the same whether one, two or threechildren are at university.
*Residual income is gross income minus certain taxable allowances mainly for mortgage, and pension contributions and dependants, but not minus income tax. A gross income of Pounds 23,000 translates into a residual income of Pounds 16,845. In the case of mortgages LEAs can only deduct the interest attributable to the first Pounds 30,000