It’s that time of year when sixth-formers and their parents visit university campuses, and every dining-room table across the land is strewn with copies of Freakonomics or Why History Matters as university applicants put the finishing touches to their personal statements, striving to stand out from the crowd, as the 15 January application deadline draws nearer.
Ever since its introduction, the Ucas website has been the one-stop shop for university applications. Most students receive application support from their schools, helping candidates keep on top of the process and ensuring that they meet Ucas’ stringent deadlines. However, most of the heavy lifting – writing the personal statement, selecting universities and, of course, getting the right grades – is up to the students themselves.
Because of the volume of applications that Ucas receives – more than half a million (despite a 5 per cent drop for the 2017 cycle, according to Ucas) – it is often an inflexible beast. This means that the system can often feel overwhelming for students and parents alike, especially those with non-conventional educational backgrounds. Increasingly, students who have only recently arrived to the UK and students who have completed foundation courses instead of sitting traditional A levels are opting for the UK’s private universities.
The philosopher and public intellectual A. C. Grayling made something of a splash when he opened his New College of the Humanities in 2012, a private university in London. The New College of the Humanities promised superior staff-to-student ratios and world-leading instructors.
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It, however, is not alone in this market. Other private universities are the University of Buckingham and lesser-known ones such as Regent’s University London, located in Regent’s Park, and Richmond, the American International University in London, which promises a liberal arts experience that exposes students to a broader curriculum than the traditional UK system.
These universities are as diverse as their mainstream counterparts, and each has its own specific strengths and attractions for the thousands of students who choose to take the plunge with the higher tuition fees and enrol with them.
Their main draw, arguably, is their admissions system. Because these are private institutions, students apply to them directly through their websites. During the application process, if any problem arises, instead of spending hours on the phone with Ucas, one can simply call the university’s admissions department.
Because they receive fewer applications and depend far more on tuition fees for their budgets than state-subsidised universities, they are generally quite flexible about short-notice applications.They are also comfortable dealing with students with non-UK or non-academic qualifications.
Regent’s University, for example, has students from 140 different countries and offers English-language support for those whose first language is not English.
Since the coalition government, the UK has become more relaxed about giving private institutions university status – Regent’s gained formal status only in 2013, and liberalisation of the higher education market is only set to increase for the time being. With Ucas deadlines ticking away this autumn, private universities might offer an alternative for concerned students and families.