UCAS, it would seem, has other ideas.
In a move that’s sure to shake up the system for prospective students, the application service is going to open themselves up to universities, colleges and institutions from the European Union. It’ll mean that nations such as France, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland and Spain are now even easier to access for students from here in the UK. At present, you have to directly apply to the institution if it’s abroad and this has been open to the odd bit of confusion and lack of clarity on fee/paperwork – I can remember filling out my paperwork for a year’s Erasmus exchange at Grenoble being taxing enough, let alone a complete degree! Of course, there will be a solid vetting process involved to make sure that the institutions who use the UCAS system are offering courses that are up to UK standard – this will ensure students get the best quality possible and means that prospective employers know that – when it comes to graduates – they’re getting people with a broad set of recognised set of skills and competencies.
It serves as a hammer-blow to British universities and the government, who have been riding a wave of £9,000 a year fees and relatively poor value for money for too long – the entire EU is potentially much more open to students, where the prices haven’t exactly been dear. The number of UK students going to the continent has been increasing for the last few years and I think this piece of news is only going to make things easier for students and trickier for universities here.
I guess the opening question is ‘why is this happening?’ Well, many universities in Europe are beginning to see the benefit of teaching courses in English to help their own students succeed globally – the language is still considered by many to be at the cornerstone of global business and trade. Of course, this is going to serve as of great benefit to our own students, who perhaps have a broad understanding of a language but perhaps not to a standard that lets them learn an entire degree. It gives one time to adjust to the culture and language whilst getting a great student experience. Several universities in Scandinavia are offering courses taught in English, though it’s important to note that Norway is not part of the EU and agreements are made as part of the European Economic Area (EEA.)
Another clear reason this is happening is because EU universities are now charging far less than their British counterparts – this is thanks to the EU’s open borders and student mobility – it’s probably the best in the world. The lower fees are in response to incredible cross-border competition and a very different focus on education that succeeds because it’s not elitist or exclusively for the rich. Germany, for instance, has scrapped tuition fees. Of course, I can’t quite see it being totally free for UK students but it’s probably going to be less than £9,000 a year.
UCAS hasn’t given any word on which universities are going to be part of the system from the EU, but the Netherlands’ Maastricht University is one place to have previously expressed an interest in opening up to UCAS. I’m in no doubt that there’ll be more to follow.
Curiously, neither the governement nor any UK institituions have really had much to say on that and this concerns me a little bit. Don’t they realise that his could potentially spell doom if they fail to get with the times? OK so there are going to be challenges in moving abroad and the like but for some reason I can’t see the committed being too put off by the prospect – and the British Council (in conjunction with the European Commission) offer extensive support to students going out for a year on Erasmus – imagine what that’s going to look like if students start going for three years! We’re going to be talking student mobility and European cooperation like we’ve never seen before… and you won’t get saddled with nearly £40k of tuition fee debt at the end of it – far less at this rate!
UK universities, colleges and institutions are going to have to get with the times – I’ve always said the £9,000 era is not only unsustainable with the woeful government mismanagement but now also looking deeply unappealing, especially with cultural opportunities in cosmopolitan cities across Europe at a fraction of the price. Take my university, the University of Lincoln: for the £9k fees you get somewhere around 13 hours a week contact time. Experience dictates that on the continent it’s going to be a fraction of the cost for more time and support. Add the experience (which employers are going to love) and the language learning and cultural awareness, you’re suddenly going to find that, unless something changes, even the top places here are going to struggle on reputation alone.
Erasmus was the best year of my lfie and I seriously wish I had this opportunity when I was applying. Nothing against where I’m at now and what I’m studying… but the UK best be prepared for a lot of change to universities and the job market. Students are going to have more language skills and a greater desire to succeed in a European environment. Stay as you are and you’re going to get left behind.
The only thing I don’t like about this change is the fact this wasn’t around in 2010 when I was weighing up the options for my university education. I would have jumped at it. I recommend that, when this opens up more and more sign up, you take a look and ponder it as a viable option.