Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
Image of Hilary Wilce

The Quandary - 27 May 2010

Our son was planning to apply to university after getting his A levels but has now lost interest. Should we apply pressure?

Hillary's Advice

Without knowing this student, and why he has lost interest, its impossible to say whether pressure would be good or not. If hes prevaricating because hes feeling nervous and scared, a firm hand of guidance might be just what hes secretly hoping for. But if hes made his mind up that its not for him at the moment, parental pressure will only make him dig his heels in harder.
What is important is that he understands the full facts of the current economic situation. After all, children reared in an age of plenty see choice as a birthright not a privilege, and find it very hard to get their heads round ideas of scarcity and shortage
But as this very anxious mother points out if he doesnt apply for university this year then he will end up with a two-year gap between A levels and higher education, and with hard economic times ahead who knows what this will mean.
And shes right. Universities took a £500m budget hit before the election, causing many of them to freeze or cut places, even though the number of applicants to degree courses is likely to be up by something like 12 per cent this year. So we already have a situation where more students are clamouring to get into universities where teaching and research budgets are shrinking. And although the coalition has yet to set out its full stall on higher education our dire economic problems means that whatever it is selling is not going to be pretty.
At present its policy on tuition fees is to await the outcome of a forthcoming report by Lord Browne -- although most observers expect to see an eventual fee hike, along with a higher rate of interest on student loans.
And while more university places have been promised, this will mean nothing when set against deeper budget cuts, fewer places, poorer facilities, pay freezes and universities inevitably starting to select lucrative overseas students over home applicants. Stiffer competition, higher costs and lower standards are inevitable for future students.
On second thoughts start applying pressure now!