University clearing and adjustment: It is time to stop the bun fight

Students today have incredible power when it comes to choosing where to study and shouldn't feel rushed through Clearing, argues Christina Edgar

Christina Edgar
Head of Student Recruitment and Admissions at the University of Sheffield
Monday 14 August 2017 12:30
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Student recruitment has changed so much over the years; it’s no longer recognisable from when I went to university (not even that long ago) in 2000.

I remember what it was like the week before A-Level results day – giddy excitement at the prospect of taking up your place at your chosen university, but with a creeping dread that if you didn’t get the grades you’d be relegated to the ‘bun fight’ that was Clearing.

August represents a golden opportunity both for students and for universities. In the open market that higher education now (almost) is, Clearing is so much more than those who didn’t do so well scrabbling around for places.

Nowadays, competition is so fierce for talent; places at almost every university are still up for grabs at this time of year through Clearing and through the Adjustment process - where students "trade up" for places if they get higher than expected results.

Unlike previous generations, today's students have incredible power when it comes to choosing where to study, only I’m not sure they all realise it.

Most students are aware that they have many options available after receiving their A-Level results. What they perhaps don’t realise is that the process of changing your mind does not have to be, and should not be, a mad rush.

It used to be that students were scrambling to get places – now it is universities competing for the best students. In all this madness, within an expanded sector, A-Level results day has become increasingly important in the recruitment cycle.

Universities offer a wide range of courses and options, and students often have to decide if this is the offer for them in a very short space of time.

The truth is, students often have longer than they might think to decide whether to take up their offer of a place. It’s up to universities to make sure they know how long they have, and to ensure this gives them the time they need to decide. Universities that don’t allow students sufficient time, in my mind, are making a rod for their own back - but more on this later.

For us at Sheffield, it is important that students have time when it comes to considering our offer of a place through Clearing or Adjustment. We like to give them the opportunity to sleep on it and come back to us (in fact, we usually give them three days).

We think it is important students are able to make a properly informed decision. Students can use this time to research our University, and to come and visit us, getting a feel for our campus and accommodation.

Many universities will offer a ‘guaranteed place in accommodation’. This is of course, a good thing, but how many universities allow Clearing students to visit this accommodation before accepting a place? Living arrangements are a really important consideration alongside their choice of subject to study; this extra time means students can make a fully informed decision, on their course, location and accommodation.

Many students coming to a university through Clearing or Adjustment won’t have visited the university they are now applying for, and so having this opportunity is invaluable to a student who has unexpected results – good or bad.

Apart from being beneficial to long-term student wellbeing and helping by offering some reassurance in what is already a pressurised situation, universities themselves stand to gain from giving students a bit more time. Why would any university want to recruit a student who had rushed their decision? Surely universities want students who have thought carefully about their choice, and have decided to accept a place because the course and culture of the institution is the right fit for them.

I think recruiters can sometimes underestimate the decision-making capability of young people; if they have the information, and a little time, they do make good (and necessarily personal) choices. By encouraging students to rush their decision, institutions run the risk of students regretting their choice and dropping out – the worst outcome for both parties, but especially the student.

It is time for the sector to re-evaluate this part of the recruitment cycle. We need to think carefully about the environment we are creating for those students making important choices at this time of year. At Sheffield, we endeavour to give students time for proper consideration of their offer, but our efforts as responsible recruiters could be in vain if other universities are pushing the same students to make decisions in a short time frame.

I know that my frustration is shared by many in the sector and other recruiters also feel there is a need to change the process to reflect the changing nature of HE recruitment.

Perhaps this is something for the new Chief Executive of Ucas to think about?

Christina Edgar is Deputy Director of Student Services and Head of Student Recruitment and Admissions at the University of Sheffield

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