'Holiday brochure' prospectuses can create unrealistic picture

Application and course advice is inadequate, juries tell Government. Rebecca Attwood reports

April 17, 2008

University prospectuses are "misleading" and "woefully inadequate", students have told the Government.

Students feel that they are not getting enough impartial advice on applying to university, or on preparing for life after their degree, according to the results of a series of Government-run "student juries" held around the country.

"The prospectus is a bit like a holiday brochure - it just makes everything sound exciting and fun," one student said.

Open days were also criticised for creating an unrealistic picture. One student said: "It's artificial. It would be better just to sit at the back of a lecture."

Jury members felt that many schools and colleges did not provide enough up-to-date information on courses and study options.

Others felt there was little encouragement for students to develop a clear sense of why they are entering higher education.

Many felt they had been "spoon-fed" at school, leaving them unprepared for the independence of university study.

"Students are not spending enough time thinking about their expectations; they need way more guidance. It would help with retention rates too if people had a better idea of what they were getting into," one student observed.

Juries wanted a "one-stop shop" for independent information and guidance on applying to university.

According to students attending the Sheffield event, this service would link course information to career aims, promote vocational as well as academic routes, match subject interests with individual institutions and provide access to National Student Survey results and league table rankings.

Students were worried that rising numbers of graduates meant that having a degree would not increase their employability. Career advice offered by universities was often deemed inadequate.

"There isn't enough done by universities to encourage students to explore their options and work experience before their third year and to raise awareness of the advice available to students at any point in their study," said one.

Another student jury participant said: "Your university should be responsible for you obtaining careers advice, rather than you alone."

Students also wanted impartial advice on postgraduate study, and said that universities could be overkeen to push students into continuing to study.

"Lecturers mention the possibility of doing postgrad study all the time rather than encouraging students to leave to take up employment. Many students end up going on to do a masters because they don't know what to do when they leave," one student said.

Rising participation in higher education led some to choose post-graduate education in an effort to distinguish themselves from those who have "only" one degree.

"So many people have degrees now that students do postgraduate study to improve their employability," one student said.

This supports the results of a study published last week by Kingston University that found that postgraduate students hoped their additional qualifications would "give them an edge" in the jobs market.

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com

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