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Roland Martin - Issue #33

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Universities: Part Deux The class of 2016: Apprenticeships rise by 14%; University applications fall
 

Roland Martin

October 11 · Issue #33 · View online
Headmaster - City of London Freemen's school; Chief Officer - City of London - '...write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing' Benjamin Franklin

Universities: Part Deux
The class of 2016: Apprenticeships rise by 14%; University applications fall by 4%

Conference benefits
One of the several highlights of a packed conference schedule organised by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) in Stratford-upon-Avon last week was a session focusing on the changing landscape regarding universities and careers. On the distinguished panel were: Dr Sam Lucy, Director of Admissions at Cambridge; Dr Suzannah Lipscomb, Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History at the New College of Humanities; Professor Mark Peel, Provost of the University of Leicester and Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive at the Association of Graduate Recruiters.
Young people today
One of the reassuring messages that the panel gave was that students today are harder working, taking their first year at University extremely seriously (‘The first year is the new third year’). Undergraduates today are also far more focused on their careers than I remember my peers (and me) being in the early nineties, voracious and keen to bag a number of internships/work experience opportunities along the way.
An interesting piece of research that the HMC commissioned with the Girls’ School Association (GSA), which was issued last week, confirms many of these impressions. Pre-university Sixth Formers have high hopes and expectations from their time at University.
PRESS BRIEFING: HOPES AND FEARS OF GOING TO UNIVERSITY – FIRST SIXTH-FORM SURVEY - HMC
What challenges lie ahead?
There are, though, a number of challenges both for Tutors and Lecturers at University and for Leadership teams and Heads as they prepare students for the step ahead. 
One comes from the connection that today’s youth has with Digital and Social Media, which has caused, in the words of Dr Lipscomb, ‘a fragmentation of thought.’ Expecting undergraduates to readily embrace a culture of Socratic learning, debate, discussion and - dare I say it - books, is not necessarily as easy as it might once have been. I liked her analogy that the tutorial framework (the cornerstone of, among others, Cambridge, Oxford, York, New College of Humanities) is 'the original flipped classroom.’
Traditional means of communication have been replaced and so, in this fast-evolving world, we are not as good at some of the old-school forms of communication as we once were. Essentially, 'social’ media is making us less sociable … And yes, I do wholly appreciate the further irony of using the media myself!
Viewpoint: Why social media is destroying our social skills | Opinion News for College Students | USA TODAY College
Another challenge comes from a less resilient youth. Of course, I am delighted that my children are unlikely to be spoken to in the ways that I was sometimes spoken to as an undergraduate by a certain type of teacher, though Professor Peel’s comments last week were pertinent: the ‘learning experience should be, and often is, uncomfortable because it is transformative’. The nature of education is challenging and learning is often emotionally tough; we have to prepare young people to be able to cope with the challenges. There has been a rash of memes I’ve spotted recently along the lines of, 'if you think math is easy, you’re doing it wrong’; obviously, you could swap the subject of Math(s) with any number of intellectual and academic trials. Along these lines, Professor Peel cited an observation made by the Dean of Surrey Business School who saw it as an imperative that young people understand that 'life is messy’. 
Which of course brings in the important issue of mental health, trending on twitter as I write on #worldmentalhealthday.  Addressing emotional wellbeing is a huge challenge, not because the mental health landscape is necessarily dramatically different these days, but because - thankfully - people are talking about it a lot more. 
Doing our bit ...
The panel gave some helpful thoughts on what schools could do to better prepare students for University while acknowledging that there will always be a gap between the two phases of education: there has to be - eighteen year olds want to leave school and hence expect difference from their University experience.
We were urged to give students time and space to think and to learn beyond their subjects; collaborative and inter-disciplinary work was encouraged; modular study formats prepare students for life after School.
As a bridge between school and university, the panelists deemed EPQs as ‘terribly valuable’; the pursuit and study of a subject somewhat for its own sake combined with the chance to do some proper research, perhaps including exposure to some books!
In the light of this advice, I am delighted that decisions we made at Freemen’s a year ago are perceived as greatly beneficial: to expose more Sixth Formers to the EPQ; to add 60 hours to teaching each year so that our Lower Sixth teachers have more time to go beyond the confines of the curriculum; to launch Free Minds - modular, inter-disciplinary, learning for learning’s sake. All of these decisions combined might well, as we suspected, better prepare students for the next stage of their careers.
I was pleased too (not least after Roy van den Brink-Budgen’s start of year INSET with colleagues) that we were encouraged by this panel to give time to critical thinking, something that both helps students at University and beyond that in their careers.
Conclusions
Dr Lucy noted that ‘Young people haven’t changed but the world around them has’. 
She found it 'deeply depressing’ that students saw little point in learning if that learning did not lead to a qualification and that 'joy in learning’ was fast-diminishing amidst a culture of collecting qualifications as if they were Brownie/Cub badges. 
Natalie Portman - you know, the Star Wars actor with a psychology degree from Harvard - gave the 2015 commencement address at her alma mater, in which she urged young people to take risks and not give in to fear: 'Your inexperience is an asset in that it will make you think in original, unconventional ways. Accept your lack of knowledge and use it as your asset.’ 
She is also attributed with saying, 'I don’t love studying. I hate studying. I like learning. Learning is beautiful.’  
Couldn’t agree more …
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