University Alliance > Blog > Institution vs course, are we selling students short?

Institution vs course, are we selling students short?

Published on February 27, 2013

It has been reported that a former senior government advisor has criticised the decision to publish the number of pupils from individual schools that go on to study at Russell Group universities.

Sir David Bell, Vice Chancellor of Reading University and former permanent secretary at the Department for Education, follows a number of prominent public figures from across the sector who have voiced concern over having too narrow a focus on 24 ‘research-intensive universities’ – among them Les Ebdon and the principal of SOAS.

“Bright and well informed students are choosing to study at particular institutions because of the reputation in their subject field.”

It is true that the Russell Group is made up of some excellent universities that offer many world-class courses. And making readily available information that allows students to make informed choices about where and what they want to study is essential if we are to promote fair access and widen participation.


However, there are also courses for which the best place to study is not at a Russell Group University.

I recently attended the excellent Guardian Higher Education conference, where a panel of students talked about their experience of applying to and attending their chosen university. And what came through was how they consider(ed) multiple different factors when choosing where to study including teaching excellence, the city in which the university is located, the feel of the university and campus, and their experience at the open day.

“The UK should be supporting a diverse HE sector and supporting excellent courses wherever they exist.”

Bright and well informed students are choosing to study at particular institutions because of the reputation in their subject field, their on-campus resources (for example, University of Lincoln’s award winning Engineering school, the first in the UK for more than 20 years), or their impressive record at helping graduates into employment.

And Alliance universities offer some of the best courses in the country. Just a few examples include:

  • De Montfort University’s industry accredited BA Game Art Design Course makes DMU graduates three times more likely to gain employment in this highly competitive global industry than graduates of non-accredited courses.
  • The University of Hertfordshire is one of very few UK universities that allow students to complete their LLB academic training in two years with a course that combines sector-leading teaching methods (including flipped methods with podcast lectures and workshop-based contact time) and substantial skills development.
  • The University of Huddersfield has a Partners in Law Scheme with AAA entry requirements and includes internationally renowned legal firms such as Pinsent Masons, DLA Piper, Walker Morris and Eversheds.
  • Oxford Brookes’ Architecture course is consistently listed in the top five by the 100 top architectural practices in the UK and former students have gone on to work for top names including Norman Foster, Nicholas Grimshaw and Zaha Hadid.
  • Plymouth is the only University with its own Marine Diving Centre and has won the Queen’s Anniversary prize for Higher & Further Education in recognition of world-class marine and maritime research, teaching and training.
  • Teesside University’s Computer Games Programming BSc requires 353.6 UCAS points for entry (360 is AAA). The course is one of only a handful of skillset accredited courses in the country and has a world class research record, with 10% of the last RAE submission judged internationally leading and 45% internationally excellent.
  • BSc Biomedical Science at University of the West of England is taught and delivered with staff from 4* RAE research unit and involves an embedded partnership with NHS supporting new programmes in Healthcare Science.

The UK should be promoting a diverse HE sector and supporting excellent courses wherever they exist. The best and the brightest students should be encouraged to study at the best place for them. This might be at a ‘research-intensive’ institution but it should always be on the best course to support their ambition. Too narrow a focus on institution does our students and our country a disservice.


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