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7 Issues Facing Higher Education in the UK


Issues facing higher education in the UK. Collages and University

Given the recent marking boycott underway in hundreds of universities across the UK, exploring what has gone wrong within colleges and universities has been a passion project of mine. Higher educational institutes have always faced difficulties. With the poor mental health of both staff and students, many institutions have struggled with the increasing demand. Not only that, but the rapid shift to online learning led to many struggles with the steep expectations and demanding environmental change. These are only some of the issues mentioned. Whilst there are no easy answers to these issues, we should, at the very least, be discussing and recognising that these are issues, nonetheless.


Whilst there is not one system without its flaws, it is essential to note some of the issues and try rectifying them.


Digital experience


The rapid shift to online was a lot for everyone to handle. Whilst many colleges and universities encouraged and required a portion of staff to do aspects of courses online, the demand for every aspect of higher education to be online was a… unique demand. Many systems struggled with the weight of increased traffic and systems like MS Teams were new to almost everyone. The other challenge that everyone faced was finding the space to have these calls. Not everyone has an extra space where they can hold meetings or have a quiet space to participate in seminars or lectures.


One large issue that was common for many students was accessibility. For lots of students, internet access was difficult and meant that attending online lectures and seminars was incredibly difficult. Along with this, ‘tech poverty’ was highlighted incredibly quickly. Students may not have access to the technology required to attend and engage in the way they are required to.



Whilst this issue is technically two different topics, they are intrinsically linked. With good student engagement, there is a higher chance of positive student retention. If students engage both socially and academically, they are more likely to succeed, increase the reputation of the university, and further a positive image that keeps the cycle progressing. When covid hit, both engagement and retention plummeted with students struggling to engage and a higher-than-normal percentage of students leaving the higher education space.


Many within the higher education sector have worked to improve this and, so far, many places are getting this right after the pandemic with the introduction of hybrid learning. Whilst there is always space to improve student engagement, there is hope that there is a level of improvement.


Student communication


As many students will tell you, colleges and universities are a cacophony of information. This is positive and a negative. With many places doing their best to keep students informed, more often than not, it can get lost. With a multitude of platforms with information, students can sometimes feel lost and overwhelmed. It’s easy for emails to get lost and with unfriendly website designs, students can often feel lost and frustrated.



With the UK leaving the EU, the government removed Erasmus + which essentially helped foreign students study in the UK. With roughly 605,130 international students across the UK, this was, and still is, a large concern for many. With this withdrawal, many opportunities have been removed or altered disadvantaging so many both in the UK and across Europe as a whole.


Fees


For many, fees are a huge factor in determining whether to pursue further education or not. With grants and loans not keeping up with inflation, students are required to find jobs along with their studies. This can often make focusing on college/university work more challenging and the overall student experience to be decreased. There is fear that for many students coming from lower or disadvantaged backgrounds, further education will simply not be an option, meaning they will be locked out from even considering studying.


Strikes and staffing


From 2018 till now, there has been some form of strike action in the higher education space, disrupting student learning. For many lecturers, this is not the action that they want to take. However, with the increasing demand for workload and pressure, many feel that the demand for better pay and working conditions is justified (it is). With the marking boycott underway, many students are now standing in solidarity with their lecturers, demanding change in higher education management.


Mental health and well-being


This has been the biggest issue facing students for a very long time. College and university are incredibly demanding and can cause a lot of issues. Finding support for students during difficult times, means institutes need to find funding to support the increased demand. Unfortunately in many places, there isn’t enough money without detracting from other services. During the pandemic, there was a sharp increase across the UK with many students (and staff) struggling to cope. This meant that the limited services that were on offer, became stretched to a dangerous point. Even after the pandemic, this is still an issue with many institutions still not having the infrastructure needed to successfully support students.

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