VC's week - 28 January 2013 - Recruitment and Postgraduate Taught (PGT) funding discussions

A regular update from Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Arthur.

Professor Michael Arthur

Thankfully, last week’s snow didn’t hamper our campus operations too much. Some lectures were cancelled and the Library closed early on one evening but, in the main, things continued to run smoothly. Our Estates team worked tirelessly to keep pavements and roads ice free, so a big thank you to them and all those colleagues who battled the elements – and transport systems – to make it into work.

The University’s Recruitment Steering Group is now firmly established and has been meeting weekly to ensure that we can respond quickly to recruitment demands and trends. As widely predicted, number controls have been lifted and we could, theoretically, recruit unlimited numbers of students gaining at least one A and two B grades. However, our objective is to recruit to meet our planned numbers whilst maintaining high-quality applicants. The job now is to concentrate on ramping up our conversion activities so that we become our applicants’ first choice.

We’re working really hard to make sure that, right from the first contact, our dealings with applicants are positive and efficient. We’ve improved our application and acceptance acknowledgement process, offer strategy and turnaround, and enhanced our interviews and visit days, all of which will, we hope, encourage applicants to choose Leeds.

We’ve also introduced several new activities and initiatives to boost and support undergraduate recruitment for 2014 entry. The Access and Community Engagement team have massively increased our outreach – trebling the number of higher education events we attend. We have a presence at 300 events in the UK and are increasing school visits and attendance at overseas events. We know that our Open Days are an extremely positive experience for prospective undergraduate students, so this year we’re going from three to five for 2014 entrants. Plus, to boost postgraduate recruitment for 2013 we are holding our first dedicated, University-wide postgraduate open day which is coming up on Friday 15 February. Alongside this we have launched a University-wide alumni bursary to improve progression to postgraduate study and to recognise the lifetime partnership we want to build with our alumni.

At the same time, we’re working hard to ensure that our existing students get the best possible experience from their time at Leeds and that they know how to access support and advice when they’re struggling. I know that the International Student Office is currently working with some of our Syrian students who have been affected by the ongoing political turmoil in their home country and have concerns over their ability to continue studying here. In fact it was with this group of students in mind that we decided last year to set up an extra financial ‘safety net’ to help students who suddenly find themselves destitute and unable to pay their tuition fees. It’s measures such as this that should reassure our body of international students in particular that once they come to Leeds they are part of a genuine community.

The funding of home/EU postgraduate taught (PGT) study was the topic of a combined BIS and HEFCE round table last week and I was there with a Russell Group hat on – as past chair, I am still wheeled out on occasion! The meeting was conducted under Chatham House rules, so I can’t reveal the fine detail of the discussion, but it was attended by David Willetts and his team and by HEFCE Chief Executive Alan Langlands and other key figures from HEFCE, as well as a number of industrialists, bankers and academics, Vice-Chancellors and Principals. There was a clear recognition of the need for better arrangements for the funding support of PGT, but also an acknowledgement of the complexity and differing nature of PGT – even within one institution. There was general agreement that progress should be made on two key aspects of PGT – i) enabling PG study for those from low income families, particularly for courses that facilitate entry to the professions and better paid employment, and ii) support for PGT that leads through to PhD study. There have been many attempts to solve PGT funding in the past, but I got the distinct impression that there was a very strong desire to make real progress and HEFCE will now coordinate further work. As this evolves, I will keep you posted.


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