Recently the University of Reading announced that it had reached its targets and increased their student admissions by 7% compared to the sector average of 1%. They are extremely happy with the results, and why should they not be? Reading university is becoming more interesting, more people want to come and study, busier campus with more diversity, all amazing things, but we have to look at the bigger picture.
This year UoR couldn’t promise halls for all their first year students.
We currently have students staying in hotels across Reading, commuting to and from campus as there is nowhere else for them to stay. The university is waiting for other students to drop out of Uni and their halls places, so they can be slotted in. The university is also planning on knocking down St. Pats before building a new hall. While the Union is in full support of the redevelopment of St. Pats, we question the approach to the renovations. If we already haven’t got enough halls, surely it makes sense to build part of the halls before you knock the whole thing down?
More students equal more money, but how is that money being spent?
The university paid millions on a marketing rebrand including a new website. A year later they introduced the PAS review designed to save money. The marketing has been successful in attracting students, while one of the largest concerns with the PAS review was the lack of support students would face. We already struggle with staff to student ratio and with further cuts to staff and more students, that’s only going to exacerbate the problem. It’s all well and good having a glossy prospectus, but when your support staff are over worked, under resourced and at risk of getting the sack, students are going to notice.
Student satisfaction isn’t increasing.
The latest scores on the NSS data saw Uni of Reading Drop 20 places in overall satisfaction. We are still ranked below 100th for Assessment and Feedback, we still score low on organisation of course and we still show no signs of improving. Getting students through the door is important, but what happens when they are here. Instead of funding for better open days, why not fund for e-marking, or exam feedback? Things students have been requesting for years.
They were going to extend the teaching day.
The university proposed plans of extending the teaching day for all students to cater for the high demand of large lecture theatres. More students are needing lecture rooms of 400+ capacity. There has been countless research done that show smaller classroom sizes benefit students, improves scores and reduces drop out. The university is not building larger lecture theatres to cope with the demand either, they would rather push the day back to 8pm, despite the effects that would have on parent students, students with jobs, students that commute, students that are part of societies etc.
Its in response to competition, not widening participation
The nature of the increase comes as a direct response to competition in the sector. If this was about increasing access for D/disabled students, students from low income backgrounds, mature or part time students then i would be more forgiving. The fact is the university has an extremely low number of part-time students, they closed down Theatre Arts, Education and Deaf Studies and the School of Systems Engineering, two areas with a huge number of disabled students, supported the removal of maintenance grants and the cost of halls is consitantly increasing. These actions do not scream widening access.
So yes the university has more students wanting to come and study, but that’s having a negative impact on the current students. The university needs to look at its infrastructure first, it needs to understand that their marketisation of education is damaging the experience of their students and it needs to think about the sustainability of this model. While increased student numbers may make for increased cash flow, poor experience will see them shoot down league tables, and good luck marketising that.