The stories beneath the headlines: university is still a life-changing experience

This year’s A-level result day will be the last before the new graduate finance system arrives in 2012. Against a backdrop of Government reforms and predictions of increased competition this year because of the fee increase next year, the question of the value of degrees is again being challenged.  As Vice Chancellors and universities, we need to be better at explaining how valuable a university experience is.

Would I have gone to university if I had had to contribute so significantly as a graduate to the cost of my degree? Yes, I definitely would have. Why? Because it transformed my life, made me think and see the world differently and made possible things that I never thought would or could be. In my experience, students do understand this. They are inquisitive, engaged and hardworking members of the university community, making the most of the wide range of opportunities available to them while studying.

As part of University Alliance, we have recognised the importance of the investment being made by our students now and in the future. So all 23 Alliance universities have signed up to a vision for our students, explaining how what we offer is so much more than just a degree.

We do not take the increased investment that our graduates will be making in the future lightly.  We are clear that our job is to re-invest in our students, to create an environment that is filled with rich and diverse opportunities. Students must continue to benefit from this unique set of experiences, whichever path they choose.

The needs placed on graduates in the 21st century by our changing economy mean we as Universities must respond to this and continue to develop for the sake of our students and graduates.   We are committed to doing this and to ensuring our students gain more and more from the whole university experience while studying with us.

We have heard the amazing stories by students who are clear why they are at university and how they plan to make the most of it. We now need to do more to give them a mouthpiece.  At University Alliance we have been drawing these stories together to highlight the true depth and breadth of the student experience. Forget the popular narrative of university as merely instrumental, only focusing on a course of study. Our students have many more opportunities beyond the ‘classroom’.

Work placements at the CERN Large Hadron Collider thanks to University of the West of England. Opportunities to do research alongside world-leading marine biologists at the University of Plymouth, leading projects to change the way real businesses work at the University of Hertfordshire and University of Salford. Actively engaging in the way our universities are run at University of Glamorgan.  These are just some examples of the activities some of our students experience while at university. It is so much more than lectures, seminars and essay deadlines.

Because of Government cuts to universities’ grants, it is now the case that higher education has a higher sticker price attached to it. But no one thinking about going to university should be put off by the new funding system. There is no upfront cost. No one pays until after they have graduated, and even then it’s only once their salary reaches £21,000.

But going to university is an investment worth making.  This A-level week, as thousands of students receive their results, let us look beyond the headlines and remember to tell the stories of the impact university has on the lives of our students.

Further reading