In Depth

British universities demand extra funding - but do they offer value for money?

New analysis compares earnings of graduates in UK and other countries as A-level grades chaos prompts admissions overload

UK universities are calling on the government to provide funding to help additional students secure places following the A-level grading fiasco.

The institutions have been flooded with calls from school leavers who now meet entry requirements following the government’s U-turn on the use of a controversial algorithm that downgraded almost 40% of A-level results in England. 

What are the numbers?

In the wake of angry protests outside Whitehall, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced on Monday that this year’s A-level results would be based on teachers’ predictions rather than those churned out by the automated system. 

But around 55,000 pupils had already been rejected by their first-choice universities prior to the change in policy - which came just days after Williamson insisted there would be “no U-turn, no change”.

“Roughly 30,000 students accepted a place at their second-choice university, while an additional 80,000 are holding out for appeals,” according to the Daily Mail.

Many are now “desperately scrambling” to try to get into their preferred university, leaving the institutions facing a “logistical nightmare trying to reallocate thousands of places over the next week”, adds The Sun.

Williamson has also suspended a cap on student numbers for universities - effectively allowing institutions to accept unlimited numbers this year.

The Telegraph’s education editor Camilla Turner reports that vice-chancellors met universities minister Michelle Donelan last night in a bid to reach an agreement that will allow them to admit as many school leavers as possible.

According to a source, the universities have asked the government for extra financial help that would allow them to “scale up” places this year and next.

But do UK universities offer value for money?

Amid the demand for university places and upscaling of admissions, the worth of having a university degree in the UK has been called into question.

With an upper limit of £9,250 a year, tuitions fees paid by students in Britain are the highest in the 37-member Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an organisation of developed countries.

By contrast, Spain offers tuition for a bachelor’s degree for around €1,460 (£1,320) a year, while the cost in France and Germany is around €200 (£180) and €112 (£100) respectively, The Telegraph reports. In Norway, Denmark and Sweden, most students pay nothing.

However, a new analysis by student employer Stint of data from the OECD, World Bank and university league tables found that graduating in Britain does not boost subsequent earnings as much as in many other nations. 

“Recent graduates in Britain typically earned 33% more than the national average, but those in America managed to boost their pay by 65%,” says the newspaper. And “university leavers in Spain took home as much as 53% more than the average salary”.

But while this international pay gap may be “pretty galling”, most graduates in the UK “will still be better off” than their peers who do not get a degree, according to Sarah Coles of stock broker Hargreaves Lansdown.

“The average male university leaver will make £130,000 more over their lifetime than a non-graduate, and average female university leaver £100,000,” she said.

In addition, the new analysis found that UK universities rank well for increasing employment prospects, with just under 90% of recent graduates in work, compared with 85% in America.

Institutions in Britain also scored highly for quality of education, coming second after the US, with Germany in third place.

Overall, the analysis “placed Britain eighth among the 37 countries for providing graduates with value for money”, The Telegraph reports.

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