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Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Volume 11, Issue 8; February 29, 2012


It’s official – student applications drop in the UK.


Adding an option and integrity to admitting Chinese students.


Calling for a code for UK landlords.


Museums 101.

1) THE PLAYING FIELD – It’s official – student applications drop in the UK.

According to the UK’s body for university applications, UCAS, the number of home student applications to UK universities are down this year on average by 8.7%, with mature student applications being the worst hit. All fingers point to the (highly publicized) soaring increase in tuition fees as the reason for the drop.

Almost all study areas are facing a decrease in applications, with the biggest casualties being non-European languages and technologies, both of which were down by almost a fifth. In fact, the only disciplines appearing to have slightly increased were those ‘aligned to medicine’ (ie: nursing, midwifery, and physiotherapy) – likely due to the fact that these areas remain government-funded, so no tuitions need to be paid by national students.

Meanwhile, the biggest drop in applications is among mature students, with a total drop of almost 11% from students over the age of 25. One reason behind this change is that, starting autumn 2012, any student studying for a second degree will no longer be eligible for student loans. This news comes as a particularly worrying sign, at a time when Britain is already lagging behind other countries on the issues of mature students and qualifications levels. According to Universities UK – Canada, USA, New Zealand and Russia all have a much higher proportion of 25- to 64-year-olds with a higher education qualification than the UK.

With the raised tuition fee cap and steadily climbing student debts in the UK (the highest of which last year, before the fee raise, was an already eye-watering amount of £66,150 or US$104,000, according to University World News), it seems no wonder that some students are balking away from the prospect of higher education this Fall. With national unemployment at a 15-year high (ie: post-graduation job prospects low), it seems particularly unlikely that the previous government’s target of having 50% of all 18- to 30-year-olds at university will be met any time soon.

Experts, meanwhile, have optimistically stated the drop in applications is not as bad as they were expecting. Putting a positive spin on the situation, Universities UK chief executive, Nicola Dandridge, compared the event to a previous trend: “We saw a similar dip in 2006 when tuition fees increased to £3,000,” she explained, “which then rectified in subsequent years.”

Source: “Student applications drop just the tip of the iceberg”. University World News, February 19, 2012.

2) ABROAD PERSPECTIVES – Adding an option and integrity to admitting Chinese students.

In a bid to attract more international students, one of Australia’s top universities is now accepting scores from China’s national college entrance exam, or gaokao, in their own admissions process.

While Chinese applicants to the University of Sydney used to have to provide academic records showing at least eight to 12 months of prep work at a local college in addition to their international English Language Testing System (IELTS) scores, these students can now use their gaokao marks to enter straight into the university’s academic programs. With each year of study in Australia costing Chinese students an average of 200,000 yuan (or $31,800), this news comes as great news for students’ families – many of whom struggle with the costs of overseas education.

“The new policy relieves some of the burden on Chinese families because it saves tuition fees and living expenses for students, of course, as well as one year of time,” explains Emily Du, a former agent for overseas education in Beijing.

But it’s not just financial benefit this new policy offers. Beyond the obvious savings, it also provides students with greater options – as they no longer have to choose between taking the gaokao (a mandatory requirement for Chinese institutions) and applying for schools abroad.

“In the past, students who wanted to receive undergraduate education overseas had to give up gaokao, which was not accepted by overseas universities,” says one Tianjin resident, whose son is currently studying for a master’s degree in Australia. “The new policy gives students more choices.”

Although applicants still need to hold a minimum IELTS score of 6.5 to enter the University, when compared to admission cut-offs set by Chinese universities, the gaokao scores now accepted by the University of Sydney are in fact very low. For example, in Shanghai, students need to score a minimum of 468 to apply for the Australian university – that’s more than 100 points less than the score needed to enter China’s top schools, such as Peking or Tsinghua University.

With these lowered entrance requirements, some fear the new students will be unable to keep up with the demands necessary for actually completing their overseas degrees.

“Fact is, many Chinese students wanted to avoid gaokao. It’s a tough test,” says Mel Broitman, Managing Director of Higher-Edge, a leading international education strategies firm (and publisher of this newsletter). “Many foreign institutions have been assessing admissions on grades from private high schools in China, which are commonly inflated and often bogus. So what the University of Sydney is doing moves the admissions standard over to the side of more integrity.”

Source: “Australian school accepts gaokao for admissions”. China Daily, February 20, 2012.

3) OVER THE COUNTER – Calling for a code for UK landlords.

For many local residents, the arrival of out-of-town students, both national and international, means one sure thing – more money. Not just for the host universities themselves (many of whom are upping tuitions across the board), but also for local businesses. And as a fresh battle heats up in one UK city, the growing issue of student exploitation for commercial interests is increasingly making its way into news headlines.

Fed up with agents and landlords who demand signed rental agreements and large sums of money almost a year in advance, about 1,500 students from both Oxford and Oxford Brookes universities have launched a petition, calling for the adoption of a new code of practice in the industry.

According to Brookes student union advisor, Jo Cox, first year students at the city’s universities are pressured as early as October to sign up for houses for the following academic year. She estimates that students are currently paying up to £775 each in administration fees, a holding fee, deposit, and at least the first month’s rent up-front to secure homes for the following year – while some international newcomers (ie: those without UK-based guarantors) are asked for as much as six months’ rent in advance.

“It really is not fair on the students to make them make big financial decisions when they’re not ready to,” says Wendy Dant, from the Brookes student advice centre. “No-one else would be asked to sign up for a property ten months in advance.”

Specifically, the proposed code of practice asks letting agents to hold off on advertising properties and signing contracts with students for upcoming academic years until at least February 1st. While some agents point out that in many cases, it is the students themselves who encourage the situation – in instances, even bribing agents to give them ‘dibs’ on choice housing in advance of others – others, like Chris Shahab, say they would like to see the petition go through.

“I know of one letting agent this year who put out their list of properties (for the following academic year) at the beginning of October, when tenants had only moved in September,” he explains. “Landlords are scared they’re not going to let their properties out.”

While Shahab’s company, Hutton Parker, is one of the agencies happy to sign up to the ethical code, he admits that all the firms in the city would need to agree in order for it to actually work… A difficult scenario, seeing as even the Oxford Brookes Student Accommodation agency itself remains among those unwilling to agree to the date – and in fact, continues to release its properties far ahead of the others.

Source: “University students in protest at ‘early’ rental fees”. Rentman, February 21, 2012.’-rental-fees-5220.html

4) GLOBE TIPPING – Museums 101

Whether a carefully selected destination, or attempt to ‘fill up a spare day’, museum outings can make for great travel highlights. But, as is often the case when it comes to travel, it often pays to be prepared – so here are some tips to help you make the most out of your next museum visit.

Study a guidebook, and specifically, find out which museums and/or exhibitions require a reservation (examples include the Alhambra, in Granada, and Borghese Gallery in Rome). Similarly, while some sights don’t officially require booking ahead, making a simple ‘entry’ reservation, when available, can help save you time and limit needless frustration. For example, why sweat in line for hours to climb the Eiffel Tower when a simple reservation will allow you to show up at a set time and breeze right in?

Know the sight’s closed days (for obvious reasons), as well any ‘free days’ – which, it is worth noting, are often overrun by people… as in the case of the Sistine Chapel.

Arrive early, or late at popular sights. For example, if you show up by 8am at Bavaria’s famous fairy-tale castle, Neuschwanstein, you’ll get a ticket. Come an hour later, and you’ll most likely wait a long time or find that tickets are sold out. Some museums, like London’s Tate Modern, stay open late one or two nights a week – when crowds often disappear and make for a much more enjoyable visit.

Keep an eye out for museum passes and combo-tickets, which can save you money on seeing multiple sights in the same area, and allow you to bypass long admission lines (ie: you only need to stand in line for the ticket once).

Be selective. As only a fraction of most museum pieces are, in fact, true masterpieces, don’t worry about trying to cover ‘everything’ at each place. Instead, take a look at a guidebook or museum pamphlet beforehand, and just concentrate on seeing the top attractions. If you have any energy left afterward, you can always try to tackle more – but by having a specific game plan going in, you’ll likely end up having a better experience, covering all the highlights.

Take a tour. While some museums offer regularly scheduled tours in English (look online or phone ahead), many have audioguide tours (some included in the entry cost, others costing a few dollars extra). Alternatively, if you’re carrying a mobile device such as an iPod or smartphone, you can always consider downloading an audio tour online as well.

Eavesdrop. If you’re especially interested in one piece of art, spend some extra time studying it, while listening to passing tour guides tell their different story about it. As guides do their own research, many come up with different stories, so you can get a nice range of background this way.

To make sure you see all your favourites, check out the museum’s guidebook index and/or the gift shop’s postcards upon arrival. This way you’ll know if there are any pieces or artists you want to specifically keep an eye out for.

And finally, get comfortable. Check your bag and coat upon arrival (in some places, this is required), and if you want to use your camera, just keep an eye out for any ‘no photography’ signs, and make sure you know how to turn off your flash beforehand (while cameras are generally allowed, flashes and tripods are not).

Source: “Museum Strategies”. Rick Steves’ Europe.


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